- Directed by Tom Hooper
- Written by Tom Hooper and Lee Hall
- Starring Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench and Jennifer Hudson
- Classification PG
- 110 minutes
All nine of my lives passed away while I was in the theatre watching Cats. If you were worried that Tom Hooper’s musical adaptation wouldn’t live up to the wild uncanny valley promise of the trailer, rest assured, it does. These are live-action cats with the poorly VFX’d faces of celebrities who only sometimes act like cats, and the resulting effect is not what God intended for this world.
You will see Sir Ian McKellen lap at a bowl of milk as Gus the Theatre Cat, a rotund James Corden’s fur become slick with garbage juice as his alter ego, Bustopher Jones, prances through trash. Several cats get hit in the groin, despite the fact that they are missing their genitals, and the sparse dialogue between songs only consists of obvious idioms (“Cat got your tongue?” “Look what the cat dragged in!”) that gave me a brain injury. Then there are the costumes, pulled from a steampunk production of Rent: all flashy suspenders, leather coats and top hats – particularly for the cats who are magicians. Let me repeat that: I saw a cat do magic.
Rebel Wilson sings a song to an animated chorus of cockroaches with human faces, similar to the Animorph version of Joe’s Apartment, and then gets her cat butt stuck in a mousetrap. Idris Elba skulks in the shadows playing Cats’s mysterious villain with nothing to do except kidnap kitties and make them teleport to a London barge for a while. Dame Judi Dench plays Old Deuteronomy, a cat tasked with deciding which animal will get to go to heaven after they participate in what is essentially America’s Got Talent. Taylor Swift appears just long enough to have her cheque clear. All of it builds to Jennifer Hudson enacting the reason we’re all watching Cats in the first place: her emotional, rhapsodic performance of Memory, before travelling off into the horizon in a giant space balloon. These are just some of the cats I know.
Who is this movie for? Furries and Andrew Lloyd Webber fans. Before I saw the movie, I was hoping to become both, but Cats has had the opposite effect. It is the best anti-cat propaganda in the world. It could make you hate Garfield. Because the biggest sin of Cats, other than all its writhing sexuality and the heinous hairball filmmaking, is that it is supremely boring. Plenty of Lloyd Webber’s musicals (such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita) have made for wonderful film adaptations. But Cats is plot-less, built on the threadbare premise of a new cat named Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward, a ballet dancer who classes up the joint as best she can) entering the London back alleys looking for a friend. As she claws through the streets, she encounters cat after cat with their own one-note characteristics (sadly, some of which are just being overweight) who sing painfully monotonous songs of simple introductions. The entire plot of Cats hinges on as much tabby you can take.
Cats is somehow the most sexual movie I’ve ever seen and also the most neutered; the most demented and the hardest to pay attention to. If you watch this movie on cannabis edibles, you will feel as though you are witnessing your own death. It is like visiting a cat cafe where all the cats want to sing an elaborate song about nomenclature before they claw your eyes out with their jazz hands.
There are some charming moments. McKellen’s solo feels like a love letter to the old-timer who knows that his last wizened days in the theatre are upon him, and he performs the number with heart and gusto. Jason Derulo tries his best to emulate Prince and injects some manic energy into the film. And in her brief appearance, Swift shows us all what pop stardom looks like with a performance of Macavity: The Mystery Cat, which serves us old Hollywood showgirl. Then, she does a British accent.
Hooper, a workmanlike director known for his crowd-pleasing Oscar-winning biopics (The King’s Speech) before he created a risky adaptation of Les Misérables by forcing his cast to sing live, doesn’t have a particular cinematic vision beyond following his ensemble, humping the floor in heat, with an expensive high-definition camera before punching out to the wide. There are countless ballet-trained extras twirling around expensive sets, but everything feels rushed and poorly conceived. His gambit of creating hyper-stylized locations with gigantic beds and dressers to show how the world must appear to a cat ends up looking like a poorly built escape room.
Obvious effort, talent and craftsmanship have been put into Cats, but US$95-million only takes you so far. The worst thing about Cats – and I was forced to see two cat burglars sensually drape a string of pearls around the scruff of Hayward in the obvious foray to a cat threesome – is that it was made in the first place.
Cats opens Dec. 20
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