CATS (2019)

Review by LL Soares

I’ll admit, CATS isn’t a movie I would normally go to see. But I went after hearing how awful it was, hoping it would be an experience, like THE ROOM, where it was so bad it was entertaining. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Maybe, with a receptive, responsive audience (like the one for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or THE ROOM), this one could be a lot of fun. But sitting there with a quiet audience (in a less than half-full theater), it was kind of like torture. For the record, I’m not a fan of the original Broadway production of CATS (never saw it) and I’m not a fan of musicals overall, so I was never the intended audience for this one.

For those not familiar with the story, it’s about a cat named Victoria (dancer Francesca Hayward), who is thrown (in a bag) into an alleyway by some awful human and emerges to find herself surrounded by other curious cats. The cats call themselves Jellicles, which is never really explained. Once a year, all the Jellicle cats gather for a great contest, where their leader, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses a winner, who then floats up in the sky to the “Heaviside Layer” to be reborn in some mysterious way.

In the meantime, we then get to meet various cats, some of which will be performing in the contest, and others that won’t, until we get to the big finale.

These other cats include Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson, giving it all she’s got), a stay-at-home tabby who has a musical number that includes mice and cockroaches; Macavity (Idris Elba), the villain of the piece, who eliminates anyone who might beat him in the contest by sending them to a strange boat, where they sit in chains, watched by a blustery old cat named Growltiger (Ray Winstone); Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan) and Mungojerrie (Danny Collins), two mischievious (and kind of sinister) cats who briefly take Victoria under their wing, until they betray her; Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), a swaggering braggart of a cat; Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), a formerly glamorous cat who has been reduced to a gutter stray after becoming involved with Macavity the year before; and Bustopher Jones (talk show host James Corden), a fat, gluttonous cat, who provides some comic relief.

There’s Gus the Theater Cat (Ian McKellan), one of the contestants, who spouts Shakespeare and reeks of sadness. Taylor Swift has a brief turn as Bombalurina, one of Macavity’s allies, and has one big musical number. Victoria’s friends, the cats who actually try to help her, include Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild) and Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), a “magical cat,” who is quite likeable here.

There are no slackers here, the cast does all they can to make it work, but they’re underminded by a weak (almost non-existent) plot and creepy effects that take the elaborate costumes of the stage version and replace them with CGI fur, making all the cats looks really odd with slightly oversized, human faces stuck atop furry bodies. Instead of being fantastical, the effects just make everyone look really strange, which is distracting throughout.

Idris Elba does his best to inject some menace in his role as Macavity, but he’s not really suited for a musical, and only Hayward really emerges from the whole thing with her dignity (she’s one of the few pluses here). Since I didn’t care about the musical numbers, there wasn’t an awful lot here that I enjoyed. Instead, I was mostly bored. The only thing that maintained my attention throughout was the pure creepiness of it all.

Oh, and poor Jennifer Hudson. Almost every time she’s onscreen, she has snot dripping down into her mouth and it made me really nauseous. Why couldn’t they let her be more dignified?

As I said, with a receptive, rowdy crowd that’s in on the joke, this fairly unpleasant film could be quite enjoyable. But on its own, I found it to be rather tedious. Director Tom Hooper (who also gave us THE KING’S SPEECH, 2012, and LES MISERABLES, 2012) has made a film that plays almost like a bad acid trip. And unless you’re a fan of the music, there’s really not much here for you (or so I found). If you are a fan of the musical numbers, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

I give CATS a rating of one knife, mostly because everyone really tries to make the movie better than it is, especially leading lady Hayward. But it’s a pretty bad one.

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives CATS ~ 1 KNIFE

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