Way back in January, I confidently declared Steven Knight’s Serenity “the runaway contender for worst movie of the year,” and then I doubled down, adding, “Truly, it will take a calamitous motion picture event to knock Serenity from its perch, and that’s not likely since the majority of the movie’s failure lies with the obscenely squandered cast.”
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Cats.
Just when you think Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway starring alongside nominees Djimon Hounsou and Diane Lane in a non-sensical, wannabe-Hitchcock thriller is the pinnacle of wasted talent, Cats director Tom Hooper stumbles off his barstool and tells us to hold his beer.
Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, and Idris Elba lead a fairly solid A-list cast in a horribly misguided and utterly confounding adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s early-80s hit musical (which is itself utterly confounding), and our only recourse is to gape at the screen and ponder the mysteries of the universe.
Chief among them is how (and why) this thing ever got made.
Yes, Cats was a popular musical (seven Tonys, fourth-longest-running Broadway show of all time), and yes, Hooper won an Oscar for directing 2010’s The King’s Speech. But The Phantom of the Opera is the all-time run leader, and we know how the movie version of that turned out, and Hooper is also responsible for the woefully miscast Russell Crowe as Javert in the director’s so-so 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables… so it’s not like a Hooper-led version of Cats was a guaranteed slam dunk from the start.
Aside from the issues with the source material (which are many, including a glaring lack of plot and the inanity of its own source material—T.S. Eliot’s whack-a-doo 1939 book of poems), Hooper’s film version suffers from flat-out ineptitude across the board, making it an arduous chore to sit through for even ten minutes. If there are any bright spots, one is that the entire cast incredulously buys into this thing, and the second is that Webber’s music is still pretty catchy. The end.
The rest, from the clumsy direction to the ridiculous production and set design, ensures Cats’ unfortunate and immediate demise—as it blows through all nine lives at once. The biggest culprit, of course, is Hooper, who deserves to be sat in a corner and made to watch almost any movie by any director to remember how to helm a film. He uses birds-eye aerial shots when there’s nothing to see, pointless dizzying jump cuts, and ties it all together in one long, bizarre, fetishistic interpretive dance number.
And this is all before we even start chatting about the ludicrous visual effects, as human actors are turned into cats… but only kinda. Employing a mix of digitized fur and conventional makeup, Hooper gives us a litter (in both senses of the word) of creatures with human hands, cat bodies, and half-and-half faces. Some cats wear clothes (a fur coat—huh?—a top hat, a ball gown), and some don’t, which begs the unfortunate but inevitable question about whether we’re watching naked things cavorting with each other for no apparent reason.
From start to finish, Cats is an unadulterated mess but even more than that, it’s just plain bad… and not even “worth-a-look-just-to-laugh” bad. Consider yourself blessed if you choose wisely this holiday season and take a hard pass on what’s not only the worst movie of this year but possibly the past several years, too.