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MEOWSERS! ‘Cats’ is the terrible train wreck everyone says it is

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Dame Judi Dench signed on to the CGI atrocity that is ‘Cats’ the film. Photo courtesy Working Title Films

 

Who doesn’t love a good train wreck? Metaphorically speaking, anyway.

I’m not advocating to seek out an actual train wreck; that would be pretty dark. Aside from that one kid in school who always played with lighters and was chasing stray cats, are there people who would enjoy watching the unspeakable tragedy literally before their eyes? Now that I think about it, that’s a horrific metaphor. The most fascinating thing people can’t look away from is a railway tragedy? So freaking morbid. Who the hell thought that was a good idea?

Speaking of terrible ideas, some people made a big-screen version of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Cats.” It has always been a weird pop-culture phenomenon that never made a lot of sense. The ridiculous piece of musical theater found success on Broadway in the 1980s when everyone in New York was transitioning from pot to cocaine—back when Weber was sharting out weird shows like “Starlight Express.” “Cats” may be the weirdest and most confounding entry in his oeuvre. 

However, the show has amassed billions of dollars in the decades since release. Thus someone thought a movie adaptation would be a sound business decision. It was not.

Believe the hype: This thing is terrible.  It’s a meandering, drug-fueled nightmare that will leave you questioning the existence of a kind and just God. There are moments of pure, zany insanity. During its first 10 minutes or so, I was completely hooked.

I’ve been fortunate enough to not know a thing about the musical except for the song “Memories,” and the elements of the show that have been mocked. When the frightening looking cat-people break into the song “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” I burst into a fit of laughter that emptied my lungs and left my tear ducts bone dry.   Then Rebel Wilson showed up, stumbling around the screen, trying to make the audience laugh with her trademark brand of awkward physical humor. Yet, I was already laughing. 

Therein is the problem: Once the movie tries to be amusing, it stops being unintentionally funny and becomes grating. I genuinely was fascinated by the potential of the world these cats inhabited. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much world-building—just different characters introducing themselves, while vaguely discussing which one will be chosen to ascend into a new existence. I had questions, but the movie wasn’t interested in providing answers. “Cats” the movie could have been a freaky masterpiece; instead, it bounces back and forth from “boring” to “baffling.”

 

 

Everything about it is engineered to make audiences wince or cringe, from the visual choices to the eye-popping, jaw-dropping special effects of the characters. It’s obvious how much effort was put into this strange vision. I give credit to everyone involved with the production for trying to do something different. There are very talented actors doing their best to try to create a back-alley wonderland. The serious thespians, like Idris Alba and Ian McKellan, fare better than comedic performers like James Corden and Rebel Wilson.

Unfortunately, it’s the thin, poorly conceived source material that sinks the ship.  I doubt anyone could adapt “Cats” into a worthwhile cinematic experience. I guarantee audiences have never seen anything quite like its big-screen adaptation. It might be justification to buy a ticket. It’s fascinating, frustrating and freaky as hell.

The fact someone spent $100 million dollars on this cinematic ordeal is mind-blowing. It’s a movie that every aspiring filmmaker should seek out—not only to witness the insane choices made in its night-terror execution but as encouragement toward their future endeavors. Because if Hollywood thought “Cats” the movie was a good idea, then whatever other projects are in development absolutely have a shot at getting made.

DETAILS:
Cats

Rated PG, 1 hr 50 mins
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Francesca Hayward

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