directed by Pitof

starring Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Sharon Stone

Warner Brothers

Julie Newmar. Eartha Kitt. Lee Meriwether. Michelle Pfeiffer. These four ladies have all garnered notoriety by playing the ultimate jewel thief, Catwoman, on the small or large screen. Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry will attain a certain level of notoriety, as well, for starring as the Caped Crusader•s feline foe.

But not notoriety in a good sense.

Given that this godawful film has a plot as rote and unimaginative as a second-tier comic strip, some will forgive Berry for her foray as Catwoman, but they shouldn•t; you see, Berry lends a hand in sinking this potentially fantastic film to B-movie status.

This new Catwoman story plays much like the sub-plot of Batman Returns, with Berry as a klutzy, nervous Nellie — Patience Philips, a would-be artist working as a graphic designer for a cosmetics firm.

It turns out that the firm•s CEO (Lambert Wilson) is a very bad man, and his model wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone) is not a very nice woman. Just like in Batman Returns, Philips sees something one night that she shouldn•t have, and is drowned for her trouble.

At this point Catwoman deviates from Tim Burton•s vision of the hapless woman falling to her death, only to be nibbled back to life by some alley cats. Instead, Philips washes up on a cat-island shoal, and is brought back to life by a CGI-created Egyptian Mau•s mystical breath. Naturally, Philips soon discovers that the cat-breath has given her all the powers of•you guessed it, a cat.

Putting the “yow” in “meow”

However, the chosen one doesn•t fully accept this laughable premise until she visits the cat•s owner, Ophelia Powers (Frances Conroy), who proceeds to deliver a grrrl-power sermon so corny and trite, it would make the most fervent of bra-burners blush with embarrassment.

Next comes the part when, in the next 24 hours, the super-heroine/villain learns not only to master her heightened senses and agility, she learns some caporeia and kung fu moves, as well. Designing a leather costume that accentuates her rather commendable figure follows.

Philip•s love interest, Detective Tom Lone (Law & Order has-been Benjamin Bratt) is further drawn into the story when Catwoman, on the prowl for revenge, is framed for murder.

When it comes to prowling, Berry falls flat as Catwoman. While her Patience Philips is fine, Berry•s delivery is terribly forced behind the mask. With a thick layer of canola oil highlighting her leather-propped bosom, Berry can sashay with the best of them; however, she has none of Pfeiffer•s inspired slinkiness or menace. To compound the flawed portrayal, Catwoman•s wall-climbing, leaping and hand-to-hand combat is frenetically off-kilter (courtesy of cheapo CGI), making her seem more like a scurrying rat than a supple cat.

Throw in Sharon Stone playing Sharon Stone for the umpteenth time (minus any nudity or inspired wit), the lack of an interesting enemy, and the absence of even a hint of the Batman, and the result is a waste of a great comic book character. Instead of capitalizing on a pop-culture history of feline ass-kickers, Catwoman winds up being the floating turd in a cinematic summer pool that has been, for the most part, stocked with winners.

Eartha, Lee, Julie and Michelle must all be purring with satisfaction.


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