Could “Cats” be the least coherent, most incompetent movie ever made at the $90 million-plus strata? Or is it an inadvertent visionary fever dream, a penny-dreadful Baz Luhrmann-on-cough syrup romp, a vast soundstage-scaled pink-and-blue angora sweater set for the restless spirit of the late Ed Wood?
In any case, it’s essential viewing.
It is not mediocre: this adaptation of one of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history—twenty-one years in London, eighteen years in Midtown—is a hallucination of ungodly eccentricity, a sub-surrealistic traipse through the unconscious. (Whose? T. S. Eliot’s? Andrew Lloyd Webber’s? Everyone who worked on the cursed project?) The star-stacked “Cats” is a rare attainment and could well be the last of the film industry’s industrial-scale caprices, a follicular folly down to molecular level. (Eighty-one million people have seen the musical. Eighty-one million people will not see “Cats” in movie theaters.)
Director-co-writer Tom Hooper is known for his crude, bombastic attack, as well as his lack of directorial finesse (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Miserables”), passion for ultra-wide angles and indifference to camera placement and spatial coherence between shots. Mayhem! (From a few days’ respite, there’s even an abiding whiff of David Cronenberg-style body horror.) The “Cats” we got is the sort of tragic efflorescence that historically led lesser, French producers to suicide.
CATS is a grotesque extravaganza. CG singing and dancing human cats devour singing and dancing human cockroaches. I can’t believe what I just witnessed. A total commitment to a weird and disturbing cinematic vision.
— Keith Calder (@keithcalder) December 21, 2019
Eyeball-scalding and visually incoherent even within individual shots, the most apt one-word description may be from Mark Cousins at Sight & Sound, who sighed, “unprecedented.” You certainly have not seen the likes of this Eliot mess. (Now and forever.) The bursts of feline sexuality are to be discovered and ogled at your leisure, whether in the theater or in GIFs coming soon to smaller screens near you. (The kink abides.) Business on the first weekend amounted to a muffled mewl, so this may be cinema culture’s last vast draught of the depths of Tom Hooper’s creative well.
You can get on Tom Hooper for all the half-finished effects in Cats. Or you can blame the studio scourge of “dating,” in which corporations think about the calendar first and creativity not at all.
— Steven Zeitchik (@zeitchikWaPo) December 22, 2019
Befitting its theatrical origins, the version of “Cats” that was previewed and opened on 3,803 North American screens was, in effect, a preview, an unfinished movie which is reportedly being replaced on Christmas Eve by a version with almost-finished visual effects. That not-necessarily-final edition of “Cats” will be the film industry version of that fresco “restored” by the older Spanish woman. Behold the “Cats”: an unfinished work that slunk into theaters when the filmmakers could not meet a hard-and-fast holiday release date. 110m. (Ray Pride)
“Cats” is just down the alley.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.