Directed by Tom Hooper.
Starring Francesca Hayward, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Laurie Davidson, Mette Towley ,Robert Fairchild, Steven McRae, Ray Winstone, Larry Bourgeois, Laurent Bourgeois, Zizi Strallen, Eric Underwood, Melissa Madden-Gray, and Freya Rowley.
A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
Count the number of times Cats changes its tone, as it’s impressive how the film adaptation of the Broadway musical constantly becomes something else. To be fair, that is somewhat the point as in cat purgatory, a special tribe of mythical cats known as Jellicles are participating in a singing competition where the winner gets to be reborn. In other words, it’s kind of like the animated movie Sing from a few years back except instead of money the prize is the ability to live.
Director Tom Hooper (heavily following the groundwork laid before him by Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot, utilizing a script from Lee Hall) assuredly knows how to keep the proceedings flowing from number to number rather gracefully (it should be noted that this is his second musical following 2012’s Les Miserables) making use of various production sets that feel everything from cartoonish to otherworldly and even grounded. The gist is that each type of cat is given ample time to sing about themselves, which paves the way for a wide variety of lyrics going the humorous route (James Corden sings a nearly five minute song about being fat), flash (Taylor Swift easily has the most entertaining song of the bunch), and overreaching drama (Jennifer Hudson performs the popular Memories to such excessively dramatic fashion that it borders on embarrassing how bad she and the filmmakers apparently want an Oscar for it).
This causes Cats to present itself as everything from a lowbrow comedy to a horror film (I should also mention Idris Elba is running around incapacitating the competition so he can win by default, which at times turns this into an incredibly odd slasher musical), with the one recurring take away being that everything here looks ghastly and uncomfortably jarring. Tails are used as microphones, facial scanning is often times embarrassingly bad and hideous, and you will probably kill yourself from alcohol poisoning if you take a drink every time someone utters an unfunny cat pun.
Newly deceased or abandoned (who knows what the hell is really going on here), newcomer Francesca Hayward plays Victoria, a white cat that is just as eager as everyone else to proudly sing about their distinct characteristics and be chosen by the great Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) as the winner, ascending to live what I presume to be another one of a cat’s nine lives. Although, she seems to be just as much of a bystander as the viewer, taking in these various cats flaunting their styles; cool cats, fat cats, railroad cats, stray cats, cat burglars, SO MANY CATS! This would be fine but it all looks grotesque and the movie just never ends. Cats has as many epilogues as any entry in the Lord of the Rings franchise. It’s only 110 minutes but feels as long as The Irishman, pummeling you into submission as it tortures with a new kind of cat every few minutes, going absolutely nowhere with its story.
If you had told me that the enhanced super soldier Idris Elba plays in Hobbs & Shaw would not be his most ridiculous villain all year, I would have just assumed you were on drugs, specifically the kind that are also needed to enhance what is seen on screen here, for better or worse. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Peter Rabbit for James Corden, think again. The point is that Cats is probably a low point for everyone involved, which is mind-blowing considering the message of the movie is simply how awesome cats are. That message is kind of lost when what’s on display here is a mixture of CGI and practical effects that captures nothing but pure horror (especially when the score actually plays eerie music). Then there’s the simple unintentional laughter of a legendary talent such as Ian McKellen purring and scratching alongside makeup affects themselves that never once work. It’s only worse when the cats are interacting with the surrounding environments performing their songs..
Troubling special effects and all, certain stretches of Cats is tolerable due to the undeniably great singing talent on-hand. Naturally, some of the more serious minded songs are easy to listen to and might even prove to be slightly emotionally affecting, but when it comes to Rebel Wilson singing about catching mice or too many scenes of cats staring at each other with longing (there’s at least one scene where I thought the cats were going to burst into fucking), it all takes a weird and potentially intriguing idea and drags it to the depths of hell.
Shoddy visual effects can be forgiven, but the biggest issue is that there isn’t much energy to many of the performances, probably because even the actors were deeply puzzled as to what they were doing. There’s nothing to latch onto aside from the promotion of cats being the superior pet and their many different personalities, which doesn’t need nearly 2 hours to get that point across. Still, Cats is far from the worst movie of the year or even a straight-up disaster. It’s just overly long, not particularly engaging, and nightmare fuel for a grab-bag of reasons.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com