Patience Philips (Halle Berry) is not to be confused with the Selina Kyle created by Bob Kane in 1940 and immortalized by Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. This would-be artiste works as an office drone for a nefarious cosmetics company that’s discovered a way to halt the aging process via a face cream called Beau-line. When Patience discovers the adverse long-term effects the product will have on women all over the world if they stop using it, she’s murdered by her employer’s thugs and is reborn as Catwoman, the latest addition to a line of mousy women inexplicably picked out of crowds by an Egyptian “temple cat” because of how disconnected they are from their freaky-deaky sides.
The opening title sequence of Catwoman evokes a mythos that has linked cats to women as far back as ancient Egypt. There isn’t much weight given to this relationship, but the cat lady played by Frances Conroy in the film offers Berry’s pussy a dissertation on the duality of woman: Because women are ostensibly meant to be both docile and ferocious (you know, not just patient), then the old hag’s glamorous cat exists to make Berry’s character a little less vanilla. But screenwriters John Brancato and Mike Ferris and director Pitof don’t exactly deepen Patience as much as they exoticize her. This is a film that confuses diva posturing for self-actualization. Before her death, Patience was a nerd; after death, the equally one-dimensional creature struts through rooms and rooftops like an extra in Beyoncé‘s “Crazy in Love” video.
Because Patience is so severed from her felineness throughout the film, her experience hardly counts as an existential one—this Catwoman seems to exist not for her own sake, but to sex-up men and battle women who, while just as ferocious as she is, lack the moral scruples that would make men want to domesticate them. Equally disconnected is Catwoman’s nemesis Laurel Hedare (a hysterical Sharon Stone), an ex-model who sells deceit to women and whose struggle with her waning youth is actually more thought-out than Patience’s own battle with her complicated humanity. “I’m used to doing all kinds of things I don’t want to do,” confesses Hedare, standing before large glamour shots of her former self. Pitof evokes a duality between the past and the present in this sequence that’s certainly more complex (and fabulous) than Catwoman’s own character issues.
Pitof’s aesthetic is all over the place: Berry’s scenes with Alex Borstein play like a bad Fox comedy, while the CGI-laden sequences in the film often bring to mind cut scenes from a Playstation game. Indeed, what is Hedare but the final boss in a video game that plays itself? Pitof’s visuals, while not original, are appropriately inhuman in their anxiousness. The same can’t be said about the film’s soundtrack. What with all the urban music used in the film to underscore the cheesy games Berry and Benjamin Bratt play with each other (on and off a ghetto basketball court), Catwoman sometimes feels as if it’s been pieced together from a dozen or so Ally McBeal parodies trying to pose as hip-hop videos. I suppose one could argue that Pitof is to be rewarded for working into this film about sparring dualities an aesthetic that suffers itself from an identity crisis: the images think white but the soundtrack thinks black.