Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Cats is well known for being weird-ass nonsense. Now imagine taking that weird-ass nonsense from the stage, using hundreds of millions of dollars to digitally turn well-known actors into hellish feline-mutant-people, then splashing the result across a movie screen. I’m not sure what the hell I just saw, but I definitely know I wasn’t high enough for whatever it was.
Director Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) takes the long-running stage show and delivers one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever encountered. It’s horny and gay and over the top; it’s clunky and haphazard and an uncanny valley nightmare. The closest I can come to accurately describing it is if The Apple and Climax had a baby and raised the child on a steady diet of cocaine and cough syrup.
In the world of Cats, plot and characterization are nothing; there’s barely a story and things just sort of happen from one moment to the next. It’s basically huge stars with incomprehensible names like Bombalurina (Taylor Swift), Macavity (Idris Elba), Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), and Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson)—this doesn’t include monikers like Rumpleteezer and Munkustrap, or Skimbleshanks and Bustopher Jones. (I didn’t think I could hate James Corden any more than I already did, but here we are).
The ostensible protagonist, Victoria (ballerina Francesca Hayward), a feline newly abandoned on the streets of London where she falls in with the street cats—a tribe called the Jellicles—spends most of the film passive and dancing and gawking in slack-jawed awe with hardly a line. It’s incomprehensible gibberish as they meow and hiss about making the “Jellicle choice” to send a cat to the Heavyside Layer, an upper layer of the atmosphere—it’s a metaphor for rebirth here, but also functions literally, which I assume means sending the chosen one to their death?
Cats cost so much money and it’s the most awkward looking thing you’ll ever encounter. The staging is actually impressive, but the rest…yeesh. Digitally captured, all these famous faces look simultaneously familiar and also like horrifying psychedelic doppelgangers of themselves. The cast have human faces, but also hands and feet—and sometimes shoes?—but skulk about cat-style. They’re supposed to be sexy, but also overtly sexless, and as they cavort around, the whole thing teeters on the brink of pheromone-driven orgy the whole time. So much work, so many billable human work hours went into the CGI smoothing of genitals it’s incomprehensible.
The music is what it is. If you know and like it already, you’ll know and like it here. Maybe? I already hate “Memory” with a white-hot fiery passion thanks to seventh grade choir in the mid-1990s. And Jennifer Hudson, playing the scruffy, downtrodden Grizabella, turns in a version that’s so overwrought and painfully self-important, it turns out I can hate it even more. (This movie did quite a bit to make me hate things I already hated even more than I thought possible.)
From whiskers to tail, Cats is a head-scratching monstrosity. Fans might get a lot out of this—a handful of obvious enthusiasts stood and cheered as the credits rolled at my screening. But for everyone else, what the fuck? There’s a whole mess of push and pull. It manages to be both wholly off-putting and hypnotically, excruciatingly entrancing; it’s boring and flabbergasting at the same time. I want to never see this again, but I also need see it ASAP after ingesting a healthy dose of hallucinogens and hope my brain doesn’t liquify and leak out of my ears. [Grade: I can’t even wrap my brain around this enough to give it a grade.]