From the Friday, July 23, 2004 Oregonian....
In the decade and change since "Basic Instinct," Ms. Stone has hardened into a sort of Teutonic vamp-goddess -- a cackling, stony-eyed cross between Brigitte Nielsen and Joan Crawford -- and she puts it to good use in "Catwoman," an otherwise flawed shambles of a superhero movie. Stone is playing, I kid you not, an evil cosmetics queen who's been abusing an addictive, face-scarring wrinkle cream that has apparently hardened her skin to the consistency of brushed marble. (Check out her face in some of the movie's early scenes for the light CGI shimmer that suggests digital wrinkle erasure.)
Stone and her only slightly less-evil husband (Lambert Wilson) want to take their toxic facial cream to market at any cost -- even if it means killing meek employees like Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) who stumble onto their nefarious moisturizing plans. By the time Berry has been blown out a sewer pipe, possessed by the spirit of a cat-goddess and reborn as a strutting, leather-clad jewel thief and crimefighter (don't ask), Ms. Stone has essentially walked away with the movie -- smacking people around, wearing fabulous outfits, and doing murderous things to people while growling, in a whiskey-soaked voice, "I'm a woman…. I'm used to doin' all kinds of things I don't wanna do."
If only the rest of "Catwoman" were this much fun!
While the movie's nowhere near as bad as its advertising suggests, it's nevertheless a dopey, confused production -- one that reeks of both a bizarre notion of "empowerment" and too many cooks in the kitchen.
Where to begin? It would be easy and fun to fill this review with a bunch of bad cat puns (see paragraph one, word one) -- but a gaggle of screenwriters have filled Halle Berry's mouth with most of them already. There's probably a drinking game in counting the number of times Berry says groaners like "What a purr-fect idea!" and "Cat got your tongue?" and engages in embarrassing "cat behavior" like sleeping on ledges, eating tuna, lapping milk, and crouching on all fours like she's auditioning for a role in "Quest for Fire."
The movie completely ignores the established DC Comics Catwoman, Selina Kyle, who's currently enjoying a rather nice run in the funnybook pages. Instead, Berry and director Pitof have chosen to whip up a new heroine in Patience -- using ingredients from Michelle Pfeiffer's "Batman Returns" origin story and Eartha Kitt's performance on the 1960s "Batman" TV series. There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily; one of the great things about pulp characters is that they can be molded into new shapes, adapting with the times. But in "re-imagining" Catwoman, the filmmakers forgot to give the talented, Oscar-winning Ms. Berry a consistent character to play.
There's a fearsome commitment in Berry's Catwoman glare, to be sure, as if she really believes she's making a feminist statement by walking around in a lapdance-ready leather outfit, cracking a whip, stealing a motorcycle and prancing on rooftops. (Maybe she is -- though it seems to me that equating "empowerment" with misanthropic, narcissistic behavior got tired somewhere around the third Alanis Morrissette album.) Berry also does a nice job playing "gawky" before she's killed by Sharon Stone's thugs and resurrected by a mystical, computer-animated cat-food-commercial extra.
But after she's blessed by the cat-goddess, Pitof and the gang can't decide if Berry's empowered or possessed. In one scene, she seems to be tapping into her inner diva; in another, she steals a priceless necklace and doesn't seem to remember committing the crime the next morning; in another, she's clutching her hair and squealing "I'm such a freak!" like a neurotic little wallflower as she frets over her relationship with a cop played by Benjamin Bratt, who's reduced in this film to his charming grin. (It’s a shame he's so underwritten -- he and Berry have a palpable physical heat when they aren't pushing square dialogue out of their round mouths.) In the end, there's nothing connecting the movie scene-to-scene; it stinks of the sort of over-cautious producer meddling that tries to make a movie all things to all people, and by film's end, you feel like you're watching a substandard episode of a "Catwoman" TV series.
At one point, Patience visits a combination Obi-Wan Kenobi/crazy-cat-lady named Ophelia (Frances Conroy). "Catwomen are not contained by the rules of society," Ophelia intones. "But you will experience a freedom other women will never know." Which begs the question: the freedom to do what? Be filmed at a variety of Dutch angles in over-edited fight scenes with stupid men over a terrible hip-hop soundtrack? Jack Nicholson did a far better job marking his territory in "Wolf," for pity's sake.
One also leaves the theater wondering why "Spider-Man 2," which features a person in an equally silly costume doing equally silly stunts, resonates so much more powerfully than "Catwoman." I think "Catwoman" fails because it tries to create its heroine out of poses and surfaces. With the exception of Stone's grand-mal wicked-witch turn, the movie's slick without being consistently stylish. And slickness without style is, frankly, a little ugly -- no matter how good your lead actress looks in leather.