Cats review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There are few movies that truly break my brain and I find myself unable to fully comprehend the screen. Cats is that mind-bending bizarre film that becomes such a fever dream there’s a breaking point for the audience. Around the time that Ian McKellen started lapping milk from a saucer and hissing, something broke. We could all feel it. Our minds were slipping away. In this scenario, there are only two options. You either squirm in your seat for the awful surrealness of such a picture or you embrace its madness and trashy nature. Being someone who always tries to go to the movies to have a good time, I favored the side of pleasing. A trashy thrill brewed from a mixture of insanity and guilty pleasure but I just can’t be mad about a film this strange.
Based on the popular musical, Cats never slows down to fully explain what is going on. The best I could gather from such a chaotic first act is that the central characters are cats living on the street. They must dance and sing for the chance to be chosen as a cat that will essentially die and go onto a better life. Yes, this is seriously the plot. And so the cats sing and dance about everything. Do not expect the cats to slow down and explain themselves if there isn’t a song happening. The newest cat of Victoria will not help you; she can only do so much as an audience surrogate to this madness.
What follows is a slew of strange scenes with wall-to-wall music, never placing a cohesiveness to any of its strangeness and wonder. Judi Dench, dressed in a fur coat and whiskers, plays the elder cat who ultimately makes the call for the cat who will ascend to the heavens. Idris Elba, dressed in street hustler attire, is the evil wizard cat that hopes to kidnap all the performing cats so that he will win the contest of reincarnation by default. And then there’s Jennifer Hudson as the poor soul of a cat with a beautiful voice and snot all over her face. Rebel Wilson and James Corden basically appear in the picture in hopes of one-upping the other in how many tubby and clumsy antics they can get into with this visual effects feast. And Taylor Swift is there.
As if it needed to be said, everything in this film is strange and I don’t just mean the off-putting special effects of turning human beings into anthropomorphized cats. The music is severely dated, bouncing around so many different styles that include the likes of creepy 80s synth, vibrant rap, overdone opera, and dusty broadway numbers. The very staging, one that seems to fluctuate between a believable large world for these cats and stage production, boggles the mind at the visual choices which seem to be for little more than confusing glimmering. Any attempt to fully understand why cats wear coats or how Taylor Swift keeps catnip in a bedazzled tin or how Rebel Wilson can shed her skin for a sparkling musical outfit will be met with no answers. Your brain will only melt.
Because of such insanity, as well as visual effects that were never fully finished by the time I got to the screener, a lot of critics have savaged the film as not just one of the worst films of 2019 but the decade as a whole. Hyperbolic, perhaps, but this all depends on how willing you are to embrace the trashy thrill of it all. This is an overly ambitious picture that falls flat on its face but for even attempting to take that big step out and landing with a floor-cracking thud, I must admit I was amused. I will never forget as crazy a picture as Cats, a film that may or may not be destined for cult midnight showings for sing-alongs. I appreciate that a film such as this, misguided in nearly every aspect, had the audacity to chuck my brain in a microwave and set it to crazy.