This right here is the worst movie I’ll be looking at for this blog series. There’s no sense in trying to hide that fact.
Development for a Catwoman movie began as early as 1993, when Batman Forever was in the middle of production. At the time, Tim Burton was supposed to direct, and Michelle Pfeiffer was set to return for the role of Selina Kyle from Batman Returns. Writer Daniel Waters even completed a script, which he handed over to Warner Bros. the same day that Batman Forever released. Of that, he later joked in an interview, “Turning it in the day Batman Forever opened may not have been my best logistical move, in that it’s the celebration of the fun-for-the-whole-family Batman. Catwoman is definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script.” On top of that Pfeiffer, commented in August of that year that she was still interested in the movie, but as a new mother, along with her other commitments, it could be challenging.
The film remained in a form of development hell for years. Ashley Judd was set to star in a Catwoman movie as late as 2001, but eventually dropped out. Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase in Batman Forever) was also considered for the role. When Warner Bros. cancelled Batman vs. Superman (scheduled for a 2004 release), Warner Bros. decided to quickly produce Catwoman as a replacement, soon hiring Halle Berry in the starring role. This version of Catwoman isn’t Selina Kyle, but a new character names Patience Phillips. To prepare for the role, Berry actually went through a lot of physical training, not just for the stunts, but to move like a cat.
Other cast members include Benjamin Bratt as Detective Tom Lone, Lambert Wilson as a cosmetics executive, and Sharon Stone as his wife. There’s Frances Conroy in a bit part who explains the origins of the “Catwoman”, and she later appeared in 2019’s Joker as the title character’s mother. Alex Borstein plays Patience’s best friend Sally. Most of the movie was filmed in Winnipeg and Vancouver in Canada, while the rest was filmed in Los Angeles.
The director, Pitof, said in an interview that he went out of his way to separate Catwoman from any other interpretation of the character. “I checked out some to see how Catwoman is treated in the comics, to make sure that our Catwoman was in the same vein. But I didn’t want to be too influenced by the comic book, because the whole point of the movie is to be first a movie, and to be different.” Although Pitof worked as a visual effects supervisor beforehand, mostly in French Cinema, including “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” and “Happiness Is in the Field”. He’d actually won awards for his visual effects work, but before Catwoman, his most famous work was the second unit director and visual effects supervisor for Alien Resurrection.
There isn’t a whole lot more behind the scenes details after that, which tends to be normal for a movie that bombed. And bomb it did, for Catwoman went on to earn a total of $82 million on a $100 million budget. It opened third at the box office, behind The Bourne Supremacy and I, Robot. Critics panned the movie, with Berry’s performance being the main criticism. Roger Ebert went so far as to include it on a list of his most hated films, calling it a movie “about Halle Berry’s beauty, sex appeal, figure, eyes, lips and costume design. It gets those right.” He and Richard Roeper both gave it a thumbs down in their on-screen review. The Arizona Republic review went so far as to say that Berry should consider giving back her 2001 Academy Award (Monster’s Ball) as a penalty for the film.
The movie ended up “winning” four Razzie awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Berry), Worst Director and Worst Screenplay. Berry actually became the first person to ever accept a Razzie award in person, in which she hilariously made fun of the movie itself. It also “won” 5 awards at the Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, for Worst Picture, Least “Special” Special Effects, Worst Director, Worst Actress, and Worst Supporting Actress (Sharon Stone).
Most people involved in the film have still had successful careers since. Berry still appears in a number of high profile movies. Bratt’s appeared in well-known movies like Despicable Me 2, Doctor Strange and Coco. Even into her 60’s, Stone is still making regular appearances on-screen. Borstein is enjoying a fairly successful TV career, while also appearing in movies like Good Night and Good Luck and A Million Ways To Die in the West. Despite being worse than Batman & Robin, Catwoman didn’t contribute to ending several acting careers. That said, Director Pitof has almost disappeared since, his only later credits including a TV movie in 2008 and a handful of producer credits.
Where to even begin with the movie itself? So the main villains in this movie are cosmetics executives. That in itself is a lame concept, but when you dig into the story, it sounds like a story that would end up resolving itself. They’re working on some sort of new skin cream that completely stops the aging process, but as soon as you stop using it, your face starts to disintegrate. Stone’s character has been using this cream for so long that she’s somehow become impervious to injury and pain … however that works. The lawsuits alone would destroy the company and resolve the plot without any involvement with a superhero, which kind of makes this entire movie pointless.
Patience is an artist who’s working in the company’s advertising department. Like Selina Kyle in Batman Returns and Pamela/ Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin, she starts the movie off as a quiet, awkward nerdy character. It’s already a DC movie cliché at this point, but this movie drags it on for the first half hour or so. The worst moment is probably when there’s a loud party keeping her up at night, so she quietly says out her window, “could you turn it down?” She doesn’t even have the guts to phone in a noise complaint to the police. In fact, nobody in the neighborhood does this. Also, for a single woman working as a lowly advertisement worker, she has a very nice, large condo in the middle of a major city. How does that work?
The further you get into this movie, the more the plot collapses in on itself. The in-universe mythology of the Catwoman is confusing at best, with the only link to any other DC comics work being a picture of Pfeiffer as Catwoman in a crazy cat lady’s home. Berry’s performance as a human with cat-like behaviours is actually fairly decent, but it’s just so bizarre that none of it works anyway. There’s a moment where she’s rubbing her face on catnip that’s mildly uncomfortable because of how weird it is. There’s an overly long basketball game between Patience and Detective Tom that’s little more than dribbling the ball while seductively dancing. This basketball scene is in front of a bunch of kids, making it straight up uncomfortable.
The editing in this movie is atrocious. It’s not quite what I would call shaky cam, but it’s not far off. You have a bunch of rapid edits in any kind of action scene, including the previously mentioned basketball scene. But the rapid edits aren’t the only problem – the camera angles themselves are a mix of awkward, angled close-ups, shots that move around so quickly that you don’t really have the time to focus on anything, and shots that show atrociously bad CGI whenever Catwoman does a physically impossible stunt. It’s not bad enough to give you a headache, and you can still mostly tell what’s going on, but it’s distracting. It takes you out of the movie.
Not that the action is all that great anyway.
The soundtrack is also quite obnoxious. It involves a lot of pop music in awkward moments, like the basketball game, a bank robbery scene, and even mixed in with the soundtrack during the climactic fight. Most of the pop music doesn’t even have lyrics – it’s just a manufactured beat, some woman rapidly changing pitch while singing “ohhh”, and the occasional guitar mixed in. There are other soundtrack moments that try to sound epic and dramatic at the same time, but they’re just lame.
Did Berry deserve her worst actress awards? Not really, she did the best with the material she got. Did the movie deserve its other awards at the Razzies and the Stinkers? Quite possibly. Everything about this movie is a bad idea, from refusing to use the existing Selina character to making a cosmetics company the main focus of the plot. It’s obnoxiously edited, there are a number of unintentionally uncomfortable moments, and the writing in general is terrible. The fact that it actually involves a number of talented actors and actresses only makes this movie even more offensive. I’m convinced that Berry could be a great Catwoman in a better movie. The writing and directing in this movie just makes her an awkward character, both before and after her transformation. Stone proved that she can be an amazing villain in Basic Instinct, but here, she comes across as petty. Bratt is also a good actor and played a fairly convincing cop in Miss Congeniality, but in this movie he’s an idiot. As for Borstein, I cannot judge her quality as an actress since this is the only thing I’ve seen her in, but her character only ever talks about attractive men and shopping, making her almost completely pointless in this movie.
None of the cast members should be blamed for this catastrophe of a film. Some of the blame could go to Pitof, sure, but some of the blame goes to Warner Bros. for rushing the movie into production. The writers also deserve some of the “credit”. The writers include duo John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who’s most well-known work is Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation (both ok movies), and John Rogers, most known for The Core and Transformers. The Core in particular might actually be the most scientifically inaccurate sci-fi movie ever made.
In short, Catwoman 2004 is pretty much impossible to recommend. It’s not even enjoyable in an ironic sense. Depending on your bad movie pain tolerance, it’ll either be somewhere between boring and obnoxious, or a torture session. The only reason you should ever watch this movie is if you’re planning on tearing it apart in a blog post or a video review. To think that this box office bomb remained the highest earning female-led superhero movie up until Wonder Woman in 2017 is just sad.
Next up, we finally get back to the good movies with Batman Begins. Superman Returns will be next, before we finish the Dark Knight Trilogy, followed by 2019’s Joker. I won’t be looking at the DCEU just yet, and I haven’t decided whether or not I will in the future. After Joker, I’ll do a catch-up month for the Disney, Pixar, and X-Men movies that have releases since I last touched on those, before doing a classic musical theme month. Looking forward to the classic musical theme month.