Cats (2019)

Tom Hooper directs Francesca Hayward, Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench in this big screen adaptation of the Broadway / West End smash about cats having a competition over who deserves to be top cat.

I don’t really do schadenfreude. If everyone says a movie is terrible I don’t buy a ticket hoping to rubberneck. I’ve never been to see The Room, I enjoy Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda for their enthusiasm and DIY ambition, I really, really rate Batman V Superman as an overlooked modern classic. I go in to damaged goods hoping for a unique experience, and while I’m unwilling to be contrary for the sake of it, very few movies are beyond redemption, especially pre-ordained massacres. Cats has some nice misty neon set design, if you watch it with soft eyes rather than harsh eyes, there are visual pleasures lost in the poor FX work… Listen, there’s a very camp Night Train cat who tap dances a bit of spunk into proceedings long after you’ve given up. And that’s about all I can salvage from this monstrosity.

How can something so awful be so boring? The plot is “Meet a singing cat, now meet another singing cat, now meet another singing cat, and a pair of singing cats, and just one more singing cat… ok… meet eight more singing cats… just meet them one at a time…!” What significance do all these Cats have on the story? There isn’t one. Some Cats are horrendously miscast (Idris Elba and Ray Winstone), others have the dead eyed look of having been in one of these familiar doomed productions before (Dench and Ian McKellen) and you can see them gritting their teeth, counting their money in their head and motoring down their efforts to an uncommitted minimum. The lead Cat has nothing to do, barely any lines, except to continually be pushed aside by the next arrival and convulse out the occasional incongruous pirouette.

Any film with both of the blunt force trauma personalities of Rebel Wilson & James Corden in prominent roles is going to struggle to align itself with audiences. I know Hollywood has a semi for both of them but their continued employment is one of those aberrations that will be difficult to explain to future generations like Brexit, climate change denial and Ladbaby. And they prove unavoidable in this repellent stain. Interestingly, their CGI is the worst, so I’m guessing the highly paid MoCap animators couldn’t face another month looking at their bludgeoning performances and gave up adding convincing fur and whiskers.

What about the singing powerhouse talent? Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson are the poorest beggars at the rotten feast. T-Swift gets late drafted a duff, unmemorable number. They play their queen piece of casting when she has no power. Hudson meanwhile has to perform with a distracting slug of snot permanently on her top lip. She gets the only banger in the song book, Memories, but it is delayed and interrupted. Like The Last Jedi’s epic final battle you are way too knackered by all the unnecessary preamble to appreciate it. Like Aquaman, everything has all been so fake, trite and forced that you have no investment in the conclusion. For a film to squander its best show-stopping song through sheer grinding boredom is quite the feat.

Cats should never have been made, some sensible executive, studio head or creative should have figured out no element translates well to contemporary cinema. At least the hipsters have something to bray about. Blood in the water that is more than just chum. There’s a sack of struggling Cats for the snark sharks to devour. The rest of us just wanted a gaudy musical.

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