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“Cats” Is Nearly Unwatchable And Hisses At Good Taste

Meow. Well, I suppose the appropriate term here is woof. Cats, the adaptation of the smash Broadway musical, is a real dog. When it’s not alternating between being incomprehensible and nonsensical in terms of its plot, the execution of the questionable premise is at best unfinished, and at worst borderline inept. Whatever charms the stage play contains are lost here in an orgy of terrible effects, bizarre designs, and a sense that this is all just plain wrong. Anyone hoping that this would avoid disaster and be either fun bad or so bad it’s good, well, I have bad news. This film is just plain bad, easily one of the worst of 2019.

The movie is, obviously, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. It follows a group of street cats known as the Jellicles on a very special night. When a new stray named Victoria (Francesca Hayward) stumbles upon them, she sees the tribe preparing for the Jellicle Ball, which will see one cat selected by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) to ascend to the Heaviside Layer, before eventually coming back to a new Jellicle life. As Victoria is introduced to potential contenders like Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), and Grizzabella (Jennifer Hudson), she also witnesses Macavity (Idris Elba) plotting to be selected, by any means necessary. All of this is told repetitively through song and dance. Tom Hooper directs an adaptation he co-wrote with Lee Hall, based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical and T.S. Eliot’s poetry collection “Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats.” Webber is credited with the music, while Christopher Ross handles the cinematography. Supporting players include Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Ray Winstone, and more.

Visually off-putting and narratively abysmal, this is an out and out catastrophe. It was always going to be hard to pull this off, since the CGI seemed so horrid from the first moment it was revealed. Somehow, it seems even worse in action, when the human looking faces and the cat fur mix poorly during any moment where a character moves. This doesn’t even include how sexualized (minus any genitalia) some of the cats are. The felines have an inconsistent size, sometimes human hands to go with their faces, and just look way more like a fever dream than anything at all charming. Whatever Tom Hooper saw in this project is mystifying.

Cats loses whatever charm the stage production has in this translation. Here, the only even somewhat successful moments are the new song “Beautiful Ghosts” that Webber co-wrote with Swift, though it’s better when the latter sings it over the end credits, and Hudson’s rendition of the signature tune “Memory.” At the same time, Hooper’s predilection to point the camera basically up his actors and actresses’ noses do the flick no favors. Not only does it torpedo some numbers, it calls extra attention to the CGI, which it decidedly does not need. Every way you slice it, this is an utter mess. Call it a cinematic hairball.

This week, audiences are about to be subjected to Cats. The last big release of the year (give or take the flawed but much better Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) is also one of the very worst. While you can’t claim that everyone involved didn’t commit to this horrible premise, it’s still a failure all around. Would making it a cartoon have been a better idea? Maybe just letting it be a costume with make-up, closer to the musical? Maybe. Whatever the case may be, this is a giant litter box of a movie, filled to the brim with turds. Unless you absolutely adore the musical, avoid this film like the plague…

Cats is in theaters this weekend.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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