This appraisal does not factor in reactions of the severe allergy sufferers known as comic-book geeks, who may sneeze heartily at this incarnation of the 64-year-old character simply because she's no longer the expected strokable fantasy of the average adolescent heterosexual male. As personified by Halle Berry, Catwoman is now entirely about "empowerment" (if that term means pouncing capriciously through an urban fantasyland to a musical score that sounds like Whitney Houston enjoying intermittent orgasms at the behest of Rammstein). Subtract any reference to Batman, add today's requisite leather straps and female whoop-ass, and it's a bane for Bob Kane purists and a few fun kicks for curious pedestrians.
Of course, personifying the legend of Catwoman presents certain challenges. The catsuits of yore have been stretched by some mighty hips, including those of Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer (who gets a quick nod here). The ever-appealing Sean Young strangely did not land the coveted role, despite extremely dedicated attempts, but the dancer-actress best epitomizes the character's slinky spirit, eliciting appreciative purrs in other roles with no need of a silly costume. Speaking of which, now we have Berry getting tarted up like a test mannequin in Gay Window-Dressing 101, her very wardrobe a testament to renewed boldness.
Berry first appears as an implausibly frumpy advertising designer named Patience Philips. Inexplicably, she risks her life to save an annoying exotic cat, attracts a pugnacious cop named Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) and evokes the wrath of her boss, a fascistic cosmetics kingpin named George Hedare (leering Lambert Wilson). The philandering Hedare commands his empire with his chilly wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone, living up to her name), and their products are definitely not cruelty-free. When hapless Patience accidentally learns their toxic secrets, she sets off a chain of events that leads to her living out a feline rehash of the Spider-Man origin story, with a whole lot more rump-shaking.
There's plenty to like about Catwoman, from its noble attempt to weave in the mythology of Egyptian cat-goddess Bast to its obvious raison d'être, which is to deliver fantasy fulfillment for urban ladies who dream of slashing up the annoying dawgz in their lives -- or at least obliterate them at hoops. Director Pitof (Vidocq) delivers engagingly eerie urban funk with the help of gifted cinematographer Thierry Arbogast (The Fifth Element).
Plenty of fodder also emerges for the sharpening of one's claws: Apart from Berry's character ordering a cleverly catty White Russian ("no ice, hold the vodka, hold the Kahlua"), the dialogue is miserably flat. Patience's cat-obsessed mentor (Frances Conroy) looks like Rodney Dangerfield in drag (and her whine about "male academia" is a drag), and the super-svelte heroine's supposedly audience-relatable homegirl (Alex Borstein) is a meddlesome chunko who sincerely believes everything she says is fabulously clever.
Consider it a draw. You'll get pussy galore here, but you'll also have to stomach a heroine whose only mission is to save the world from the devastating horror of bad skin cream! The movie's overall effect is similar to that of attending a wild rave: There's a sense of elated emptiness with a chaser of total puzzlement over what on Earth that was all about. Of this revised Catwoman character, supernaturally imbued with real feline qualities, the imaginative viewer will ask: Does her mouth stink? Does she retch a lot? Foul the sandbox? Bathe herself? Will she torture far sweeter creatures before mercilessly slaughtering them? These and other pressing concerns await clarification in the Catwoman sequel. If there is one.