It's worth noting that I spent a good couple of years of my life in the live cast for Rocky Horror Picture Show, my weekly Saturday nights spent getting all dolled up in fishnet hose portraying the awesomely campy Dr. Scott in a musical that practically defines what it means to be a cult motion picture.
So, there was never really any doubt that I was capable of getting into the most unique rhythm required to appreciate Tom Hooper's critically battered and creatively chaotic vision of Andrew Lloyd Webber's acclaimed Broadway musical "Cats," itself based upon "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot.
Considered unfilmmable by most, Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper nonetheless decided to film it and the end result has, in the eyes of most critics and moviegoers alike, confirmed their worst fears and affirmed that some Broadway musicals are simply best left as Broadway musicals.
Now then, it could be my extensive history with the Rocky Horror Picture Show and my long-standing embrace of the B-movie masterpieces from Troma Pictures.
Or it could be the fact that within the last couple of weeks I had my left leg amputated and I'm pretty much up for any form of entertainment not involving limb loss and self-mutilation.
It could also simply be that I've now been stuck in my home for a good month and am desperate for anything resembling socialization even if it involves melodramatic felines.
Or, hey, it may very well be that I simply understand where Tom Hooper was going and I admire the effort even if he doesn't exactly get there with a film that is both a love it and hate it film. Cats is a film you will both love and hate, sometimes simultaneously, and it's a film that, as is already happening, some will declare to be one of the worst films of the year while nearly no one will defend as one of the best.
Cats is definitely NOT one of the best films of the year.
It's also not one of the worst.
Cats is a bold cinematic experiment that occasionally works really well, but more often than not elicits giggles and groans more than gasps and glee. The off-putting CGI that we first spied in the film's trailer has been replaced by similarly off-putting and clearly incomplete CGI adding feline fur and tails to slinky and winky performers often acting as if they're in the first round of "American Idol" tryouts. The response has been so overwhelmingly negative during the film's opening weekend that Universal is rushing out new prints with improved CGI at the request of Hooper himself. That doesn't bode well for a $95 million film that looks to snag under $10 million at the U.S. box-office its opening weekend.
The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical's already paper-thin story has been modestly altered for the big screen into a similarly paper-thin story that still doesn't really make a lick of sense. Of course, Cats has always been more about the style than the substance and the same is unquestionably true here. Ballerina Francesca Hayward is Victoria, a younger cat who finds herself abandoned on the streets of London until being taken in by the Jellicle cats made famous by T.S. Eliot. She becomes part of their stories on this particular night, when one cat, selected by Judi Dench's Old Deuteronomy, is selected to go to the "Heaviside Layer," essentially granting the cat another life.
Make sense? Nah.
The rest of Cats, which runs just shy of two hours, is a seemingly endless parade of cats trying to become the cat selected.
You know? "American Idol." Seriously.
Ian McKellen's Gus, a theatre cat, is one of the film's highlights. McKellen's not the best singer, but what he lacks in voice he makes up for in feline swagger and spark. Steven McRae's Skimbleshanks is a joy to watch if only because tap dancing is so rarely seen on the big screen anymore. James Corden's Bustopher Jones is a fun to watch fat cat, while Rebel Wilson makes the most of her time as Jennyanydots. Laurie Davidson's Mr. Mistoffelees is simply magical and Jason Derulo's Rum Tum Tugger is an electrifying show-off with a need for attention. Idris Elba, who has become one of those actors who seems to make everything he does better, does the same here adding an appealing menace to McAvity.
Much has been made of Jennifer Hudson's emotional turn as Grizabella, possessor of the film's only truly memorable tune "Memory," while songstress Taylor Swift's turn as Bombalurina is basically a glorified, spotlight-focused cameo that is less emotional than Hudson's yet also filled with quite a bit less snot.
There's a line in Scorsese's latest motion picture that I can't help but think applies here - "It is what it is." Cats is more than a little bit of a mess, but somehow along the way it also manages to entertain in mostly bits and pieces. The choreography is choppy and inconsistent, a bit of a werd thing considering they went to the trouble of casting a ballerina in the lead and a handful of entertainers known for their dance moves. The music? It's as memorable as the Broadway musical itself, which is to say that other than "Memory" you're not going to be singing anything else on the way home.
Yet, almost inexplicably, I rather enjoyed myself a fair amount of the time. Cats is a PG-rated musical mess that is daring and bold and occasionally dead and and mind-numbingly silly and campy and, I'd dare say, in fleeting moments even surprisingly moving.
Cats isn't the best film of the year.
Cats isn't the worst film of the year.
Cats may very well be the most unique film of the year, certainly released by a major studio, and you'll love it and hate it but you sure won't forget it.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic