New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: CATS

We were hoping to leave the theater purring but left the theater hissing instead. So much fur bound talent wasted in an overproduced compute-enhanced, misdirected elaborate project. It would be more entertaining to see frolicking You Tube kittens than this film of a musical that played better on the stage. You never believe the actors in their roles. It’s stilted, pretend acting, diverting your attention to inconsequential things. You’ll be more distracted by the movement of the cats’ ears and tails than their feline personalities.  

We expected more from Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables) The story itself is a depressing heart tugger. It’s based on the poetry written in a 1933 poem by T.S. Eliot. Jellicle cats each with their own personalities, quirks and talents. And the story builds to their attending the annual Jellicle Ball. 

In the film, each cat has its own scene strutting their stuff for Old Deuteronomy (Judy Dench) who sits in judgement. She decides which feline with ascend to cat heaven called the Heaviside Layer. The prize is to be reborn into a better life.

Hooper added a new pretty kitty to guide us getting to know each cat. Principal ballerina in the Royal Ballet, Francesca Hayward plays the sad and cruelly abandoned Victoria. She is an amazing dancer, shot staring soulful and wide-eyed in closeup throughout the film. She’s a lost soul, and the epitome of curiosity. Will it kill this cat? 

Hooper amassed a pride of talent, each doing their own musical number on a big stage complete with all the bells and whistles. There are a few funny moments including James Corden as the pompous and gluttonous Bustopher Jones. Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots starts out crawling and  falling all over the  soundstage. However, when she starts singing with a chorus line of dancing cockroaches, eating some with a crunch, it gets creepy and disgusting. 

The original music for the stage show was written by Andrew Lloyd Weber. He also wrote a new song for Taylor Swift who does a peppy sing and dance number as Bombalurina. She’s cute as a kitten, but it just comes out of nowhere and it goes nowhere. 

The showstopper and signature song from the Broadway production is “Memories.” But, in this film, Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, the glam cat has-been delivers the slowest, saddest rendition that we have ever heard. Listening to her deliberate, distressed, delivery singing was painful. Hudson has a magnificent voice, but sadly, you won’t hear it here. 

Idris Elba plays Macavity, the monster of depravity. He’s a cad of a cat. But seeing him in that hairy skin-tight suit and neon green contacts was so odd. He looks like he just stepped off the set of a horror movie. But wait!  Maybe he did! It was hard to take him seriously. Jason Derulo plays Rum Tum Tugger who just loves himself. He milks it to the hilt, mugging with a big smile right into the camera. 

The tap dance number breaks things up when they bogged down. Fun to see the characters tapping on railroad ties, but doesn’t make much sense. Laurie Davidson as the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees does a good job with his big number. 

And this film proves that Ian McKellen can and will do anything. As Gus, the Theatre Cat, he’s smarmy and you know he doesn’t take himself too seriously in this role. Nor should you. For that matter, should you take any character in this film seriously, except Judi Dench. She looks like a big gold,  overstuffed fluff ball. But her long monologues prove she reigns supreme over these cats. Dench could read a takeout menu and she’d keep your attention. 

How the furry feline costuming is enhanced is more attention-getting than appealing, but one may rightly ask, why was it really necessary to make this film? For all the technology and the talented cast Hooper gathered for this project, this Cats belongs in the litter box. 

Universal Pictures           1 hour 50 minutes       PG 

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