Catwoman and The Bourne Supremacy (review)

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Cat Nap

Eww, it smells like cats in here.

Not that I don’t love cats, but I don’t want my supposed-to-be sleek and stylish comic-book movies reeking like that.

If there really was an ancient Egyptian goddess named Bast, and she really was so enamored of cats that she assumed their form, she’d be pretty pissed right about now, cuz she doesn’t come off looking too good here. She sends, we’re informed, one of her feline messengers to check out Patience Phillips, a meek art director at a cosmetics company whose secret identity is Halle Berry (Gothika, X2: X-Men United), to determine whether Patience is worthy of something or other. And when Patience conveniently dies, like, moments later, a faceful of cat-food breath from the messenger bestows upon her kitty characteristics. She starts sleeping 20 hours a day and is easily distracted by crumpled-up bits of paper? Well, no. But Catwoman might put you to sleep for 20 hours, and crumpled-up bits of paper are certainly more distracting than this latest example of soulless corporate filmmaking. You know how cats yawn so loud that it looks like their jaws are gonna come unhinged, and that they seem to be able to imbue this action with a kind of disdain and boredom directed at you, personally? That’s what you’ll do when faced with this movie.
The biggest disappointment is that Catwoman isn’t even so bad that it’s good, which it could have at least been considerate enough to be. It certainly seems like this wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch. Look, it’s got Halle Berry eating tuna from a can in bed. It’s got absolutely no one noticing that Patience is really superhot gorgeous Halle Berry because she’s got a mass of Hermione Granger hair and dresses like Maude, not even after she gets breathed on by the cat and cuts her unruly mane into punky spikes and turns her dowdy-art-chick wardrobe over to skintight leather, stillettoes, and bullwhips. I mean, how stupid can cop Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt: Abandon, Traffic) be if he can’t tell that his new girlfriend is Catwoman? She doesn’t even slouch over like Clark Kent does or anything. The closest the movie gets to so-bad-it’s-good is a falling-in-love montage that takes place on a streetside basketball court, for pity’s sake, which beats a shopping-for-funny-hats falling-in-love montage, I guess, but it’s still so dumb you can hardly believe what you’re watching.

But the film doesn’t have any energy in its stupidity. It can’t even muster up the verve to make Sharon Stone (Cold Creek Manor, Simpatico) a campy villain — she’s the queen-bee of the cosmetics company where Patience works, desperate to cling to dewy youth as long as possible. It’s tempting to liken her to the anti-heroine of that Roger Corman flick about the vain cosmetics magnate whose experiments with royal bee jelly end up turning her into a giant insect, but that would be an insult to Corman, whose films had a genuine vibe to them even when they were awful. Catwoman pussyfoots around the very themes that would enliven it, the very themes it purports to be about. Like the idea of a timid woman’s sexuality getting unleashed (Benjamin Bratt can have that affect on even ordinary noncatwomen). Patience is suddenly described as being — in a should-be hilariously awful scene involving the dumbest and most unnecessary handwriting analysis ever committed to film — the ideal woman, tigress and pussycat at the same time. But the movie doesn’t have the nerve to be obnoxious or aggressive about female sexuality… or more likely, it doesn’t have a clue about female sexuality at all, even if it does, ostensible go-girl attitude aside, limit the whole of a woman’s personality to her interactions with men.

Blame Berry, too — there’s simply nothing dangerous about her. I’m sure she’s a very sweet person, but that’s the problem: For a story about the supposed dark side of femininity, you need a star who’s got a dark side herself. Berry fills out the leather beautifully, but she’s all light side, which makes for the blandest sex kitten imaginable.

Bourne again
Surprisingly enough, The Bourne Supremacy is pretty much the same movie as Catwoman — hyperkinetic editing, amoral antihero we’re meant to cheer for — except it’s good. Really good. So good that you can’t believe how much Catwoman suffers by comparison. I was riveted by Supremacy‘s exhausting hand-to-hand combat and adrenaline-pumping car chases only 24 hours after I was assaulted by the thoroughly incomprehensible “action” of Catwoman, and as involved as I was with Supremacy, there was a little voice in my head wondering, “How can this be so darn amazing while that was so darn boring?” I mean, intellectually I understand how proper editing can create a sense of space and build suspense and evoke a mood, but seeing these two examples practically side by side, like a Goofus and Gallant of contemporary popular filmmaking, the difference is stunning.

Oh, another difference: Matt Damon does not have nice boobs like Halle Berry’s. He can use a rolled-up magazine as a weapon, though, so don’t mention that defect to him.

That’s the kind of stuff that really sticks with you after Supremacy, things like the scene in which Damon’s (Jersey Girl, Eurotrip) Jason Bourne encounters another graduate of the CIA’s Treadstone Project For Turning Nice Boys Into Ruthless Killers. Can I unravel why Bourne goes to the home of Jarda (Marton Csokas: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Timeline)? Nope — one of the smart things about the flick is that it doesn’t handhold you through all the minutiae of the political intrigue, which does mean that the details tend to slip away after your mind has been blown by an awesome car chase or something. Anyway, Bourne goes to the guy’s house in Berlin or somewhere for some reason or other, and they get into it, Bourne with the magazine and Jarda trying very hard to be deadly wapon even with his wrists cuffed and… jeez, you feel like you’ve been fighting for your life yourself by the time it’s over, it’s so in-your-face and relentless.

And personal, too. Damon — I’d never have imagined it before the first Bourne film — has an athletic lethality as Bourne, a reluctant intensity that you sense is a result of Bourne being pushed too far, and even we non-trained assassins can identify with that. Which is why, perhaps, that we’re able to root for him to succeed, when he’s hardly a standard Hollywood good guy himself, only really cheerable in comparison to his sleazy handlers — Brian Cox (Troy, The Reckoning) again, Chris Cooper (Seabiscuit, Adaptation) in woozy flashbacks, and Bourne newcomer Joan Allen (The Contender, The Mists of Avalon). He certainly has no compunctions about involving innocent bystanders in high-speed car chases through city traffic, like the one that wraps up the film and leaves you breathless and ready for another Bourne movie. But it isn’t just Bourne who seethes so you believe him. Alas that Clive Owen‘s Treadstone vet couldn’t return from the first film, but Csokas, in his one scene, has his evil charms as well, as does Karl Urban (The Chronicles of Riddick, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) as a Russian hired gun.

You know what’s cool, too, and another major difference from Catwoman? The cat movie throws in all sort of pseudo-exotic Egyptian stuff explained by a crazy cat lady, and it’s about as mysterious and foreign as dinner at The Olive Garden. But Supremacy has a kind of gritty globehopping romance to it, all multiple passports and now-we’re-in-India, now-we’re-in-Moscow and swearing in every language and dialogue not in English that goes untranslated when it’s not necessary. If audiences are looking for a new James Bond — and by that I mean not a new actor playing a 1960s throwback but a new character who fills a similar niche on a millennial geopolitical stage that’s far more complicated — then Jason Bourne might be it.

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality
official site | IMDB

The Bourne Supremacy
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for violence and intense action, and for brief language
official site | IMDB

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