TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “Cats” two out of five Hairballs.
At long last, your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer has finally watched “Cats” from start to finish.
Indeed, I had to take a long nap after the final, earsplitting song was sung. The weirdness of it all was overwhelming, and I had to mentally recover. Revolutionary fur technology, huh?
As humanoid cats infested my dreams — Rebel Wilson’s troupe of dancing cockroaches and Ian McKellen’s disturbingly dedicated meows dominating my headspace — I realized that, despite all its flaws, “Cats” is most certainly a memorable, psychedelic and undeniably trashy cinematic experience.
Director Tom Hooper, who previously directed “The King’s Speech” and “Les Misérables,” takes a one-of-a-kind approach to Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot’s source material. Viewers will either jive with Hooper’s concoction or damn it to hell within the first five minutes.
Unlike “Bacurau,” “The Invisible Man,” “Honey Boy,” and every other film I’ve reviewed this semester — except “Six Underground” — “Cats” throws plotting almost entirely to the wayside. Victoria, an innocent, compassionate feline abandoned in the neon-lit streets of London, encounters a tribe of stray cats calling themselves “Jellicles.” Once a year, all the Jellicle cats convene at the Jellicle Ball so that the wise Old Deuteronomy — played by Judi Dench with, I think, some self-awareness — selects one to ascend to “the Heaviside Layer” to be reborn a new cat in some alternate dimension. The rest of the film is, essentially, a talent show for various spotlighted cats to show off their oppressive eccentricity. Each cat tries to prove their worth to Old Deuteronomy, and each gets their moment to shine or, rather, appear on screen for one prolonged sequence. All the while, the malevolent Macavity, played by Idris Elba, stalks from the shadows, picking off the contestants one by one and trapping them on an abandoned boat on the River Thames, blissfully far away from the music.
These featured cats include the aforementioned Wilson and McKellen as a slobbish yet ingenious tabby and an aging theater cat past his prime, respectively. Also joining the fray are James Corden’s obese and boisterous Bustopher Jones and Jason Derulo’s bad boy Rum Tum Tugger — thankfully with no accompanying genital bulge — among others. For some reason, Taylor Swift makes a regrettable but hypnotizing appearance as Macavity’s seductive ally Bombalurina, complete with catnip.
Along with these simplistic characters, who are wholly impossible to take seriously in any way, Jennifer Hudson turns in a passionate performance as Grizabella, an outcast cat shunned because of her shady past. Her performance is so committed — snot and tears fly freely from her whiskered mug at one point — that she seems woefully out of place. Her featured song, “Memory,” is overflowing with emotive power but deserves vastly better source material.
Nobody should watch “Cats” for emotional investment, and any time the film aims for poignancy, it falls absolutely flat. This is a showcase for unabashed weirdness above all else, however, and “Cats” has that in spades.
Yes, anyone who lays eyes on these monstrous cinematic creations would be immediately taken aback. No, their creepiness and uncanniness never left my mind. After a while, however, the bizarreness of these computer-generated beasts — with their emotive faces and unnerving, heavily choreographed movements — became endearing in an odd sort of way.
If only “Cats” wasn’t held back by a PG rating. An R-rating certainly would have solidified its place in cult film history. Even so, Hooper has concocted a film with a peculiar appeal.
The pervasive dance sequences, with erratic camera movements and hyperactive cuts galore, are impressive if viewers let the audiovisual assault wash over them and don’t try to follow what’s going on.
In regard to the songs themselves, only “Memory” really stands out as worth noting, but each fits well within the film’s outlandish proceedings.
So, when all’s said and done, “Cats” remains an objectively disposable but subjectively fascinating piece of trash.
Viewers have never seen anything quite like it before. Buckle up for the ride and escape from reality.