Cats movie review: Even nine lives aren’t enough to survive this nightmarish hell ride

Cats movie review: The star-studded film resembles a deviant fetishist’s fantasy more than a $100 million Hollywood musical. Even nine lives wouldn’t be enough to survive it.
Cats movie review: This image released by Universal Pictures shows Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in a scene from Tom Hooper’s new film.(AP)
Cats movie review: This image released by Universal Pictures shows Taylor Swift as Bombalurina in a scene from Tom Hooper’s new film.(AP)
Updated on Jan 03, 2020 08:22 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRohan Naahar

Director - Tom Hooper
Cast - Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Taylor Swift

Resembling a deviant fetishist’s feeble attempts at Deepfake more than a $100 million musical event film, director Tom Hooper’s Cats is just as terrible as everyone says it is.

It’s unbearable not because of its shoddy visual effects or Hooper’s fundamentally misguided vision, but because as a film, it has nothing to say. Cats is an empty experience, made more bizarre by the fact that Hooper has tried to half-heartedly sneak some subtext into a story whose original writer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, has always insisted is about nothing more than just cats.

Watch the Cats trailer here: 

Indeed, one of its stars, Ian McKellan, said he did the film to discover his ‘inner pussy’, which he is convinced ‘is in us all’. At one point in the film, McKellan (the recipient of six Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a BIF Award, two Saturn Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and two Critics’ Choice Awards, who has also been nominated for two Academy Awards, five Primetime Emmys and four BAFTAs) says the words ‘meow, meow’, while licking the back of his hand.

Cats requires of its audience a suspension of disbelief so drastic that by the time you’ve become accustomed to antsy ears and twitching tails, you’ve seen Rebel Wilson literally unzip her cat skin to reveal a waistcoat or something underneath. Does this mean that these characters have been naked all along? But before you waste your time on such irrelevant observations, you’ll probably realise that virtually every homeless cat in the world could have been fed with the money Universal spent to make this film, and that there would still be enough cash left over to fund an animated version that Steven Spielberg pitched several years ago.

By rejecting that idea and insisting on this odd hybrid, Hooper has not only suggested that animation, as a medium, isn’t emotionally resonant, but that he is not above putting actors in physical costumes, like the ones they wore on stage. The result is a grotesque, nightmare-inducing mash-up of unfinished CGI and performances that have been buried under distracting digital makeup.

Taylor Swift in a still from Cats.
Taylor Swift in a still from Cats.

While the characters’ bodies move with feline grace, their faces look jarringly human — a last-ditch attempt by Hooper, perhaps, to attract fans of popular celebrities such as Taylor Swift and James Corden to watch his film. But neither Corden nor Swift, who have a combined Instagram following of 130 million, are in the movie long enough to justify a trip to the theatre. Before long, clips of their scenes will no doubt be released on YouTube for free, which is about the adequate amount of your time and money that Cats deserves.

What possessed Universal to trust Hooper to make a film like this? He has repeatedly revealed himself to be one of the most bigheaded directors working in the mainstream today. Hooper’s 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables remains one of only four films that I have walked out of in my life, and had it not been for professional commitments, I’d have walked out of The Danish Girl as well. Cats arrives a full decade after Hooper won his Best Director Oscar for The King’s Speech, the last time he made a good film. His downfall is made all the more disappointing because, despite everything, he once showed promise. In 2009, Hooper directed The Damned United, one of the best sports films in recent memory.

In Cats, he repeats the same mistakes he made in Les Mis — obnoxious close-ups, artificial-looking sets, and live recording of the musical numbers. But most grievously, Hooper appears to have learned nothing from the scathing criticism he received for hiring the ridiculously off-key Russell Crowe in Les Mis; in Cats, he has gone and cast actors such as McKellan and Judi Dench, Wilson and Ray Winstone, none of whom can hold a tune to save their lives. And unlike their characters, they don’t have eight to spare.

Judi Dench in a still from Cats.
Judi Dench in a still from Cats.

Not a single actor, apart from newcomer Francesca Hayward, who plays the passive protagonist Victoria, appears in anything more than a cameo. While Idris Elba is basically given only about half-a-dozen lines as the villainous pimp Macavity, Jennifer Hudson, as Grizabella, has been handed the responsibility of belting out what is perhaps the musical’s most popular number, the show-stopping ballad Memory.

Understandably, by this point in the film, your patience may well be shredded, almost as if it has been attacked by a feral feline, but it is difficult to not be impressed with Hudson’s singing voice. Stream it on Spotify, and save yourself the trauma of looking at Grizabella’s ghastly face as she sings about her glorious past.

You’d expect a film called Cats to land on its feet, but instead, under the direction of Tom Hooper, it falls flat on its CGI face.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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