Box Office Failures Week: Cats (2019)

You know, this feels like fish in a barrel. And I debated this review literally being three words: Fuck this movie.

But then Rowhouse Theater — the single screen claustrophobic hipster cesspool that infamously had a strange PC moment before screening El Topo that still upsets me every time I think about it — decided to start showing this movie with live riffing from local hackster comedians and I said, “I owe it to this movie to give it more effort than a bunch of millennial profiteers of mass culture and overpriced beer ever could.

Yet at the end, as the lyrics reminded me that cats are not dogs, I wondered, was it all worth it? Of course it wasn’t.

You know who loves Cats? Warren Beatty, probably. After all, once his film Ishtar was the dictionary definition of a movie failing. Now — maybe not so much.

The budget for this movie was around a hundred million and it made back around $73.5 million of that and it hasn’t hit streaming and video yet. So perhaps the man who made his own Dick Tracy documentary — locking up the rights because he refuses to allow anyone else to play the role — shouldn’t feel so good about himself just yet. This movie could, as yet, make money.

Much like Exorcist II: The Heretic, this movie was continually re-edited while it was still in theaters. Now, today that’s simple and doesn’t require physical prints to be shipped to theaters. But that movie didn’t have a cat with human hands and a wedding ring that needed to be fixed via CGI. The funny thing is, this movie is more horrifying than anything in that movie and no one screams, “TELL ME YOUR DREAM NAME!”

Seriously, the animation houses and SFX guys made a mint on this movie, probably working triple overtime and getting holiday pay.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play was a big deal in the late 1970’s. And sure, some plays are timeless. But this story — where numerous cats attend the Jellicle Ball, an annual ceremony where they compete for basically the chance to go to Heaven — isn’t all that special to begin with. But see, I wonder when I make fun of it, I mean, I’m never going to write a play that stays on Broadway all these decades or convinces great actors to throw away any shred of dignity that they may have left. I’m just a man writing about Cats on my laptop in the early morning hours of a Sunday and trying to figure out why this film upset me so much.

Have you ever got really drunk and party hopped and then ended up at a house you probably shouldn’t have gone to? You might worry about the drinks or food that you’ve been handed, that you’re going to dosed. And it might appear that the other guests are either going to batter or fuck one another into submission — all while not caring that you’re in attendance. You might end up dead. Or worse.

That’s the feeling that I had while watching this movie. Existential ennui, which is way worse than not just liking a movie. The feeling that yes, everything is wrong.

James Corden and Rebel Wilson made fun of this movie at the Oscars, while at the same time having no issue cashing the paychecks they made from it. Corden reminds me of the 70’s celebrities that SCTV would skewer with The Sammy Maudlin Show, but he has none of the charm or nostalgia value of the glad-handing celebs that once held court on Carson and game shows. Wilson deserves better and I worry with this role that she may not realize it.

I do have to confess that I laughed like an absolute maniac during this movie, perhaps more than I have at any comedy I’ve watched this year. I usually stick to the old school Saturday Night Live rule that funny names are the lowest form of comedy, but there’s a cat named Macavity the Mystery Cat. And a theater cat named Asparagus. And that role is played by Ian McKellen, making this his new career nadir — and that dude was in a bunch of boring movies where shrunken furry-footed men walked and walked and are still walking, somewhere still in the shire. Assuredly, the man would rather have his role of Death in The Last Action Hero on his resume than this.

The cast got to attend a cat school to prepare themselves for this movie. One assumes that they learned how to defecate in boxes, lick themselves, randomly fall asleep and break everything important to everyone. That joke was written by one of my cats, who said that he’s allowed to say that, seeing as how, you know, he’s a cat. Also: I may be writing this review on a variety of substances over the counter, on the bar and under the radar.

Here’s some Cats trivia to see if you’re paying attention: The story is based on T. S. Eliot’s book Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which is also where most of Sir Peter Ustinov’s dialogue as Old Man in Logan’s Run comes from.

I was doing just fine until the CGI people roaches and mice showed up. Now, I’m losing my marbles.

After The King’s Speech, director Tom Hooper was flying pretty high. Who knows where he goes from here? Does this movie have a second life of ironic jerks loving it in spite of itself? Probably. The same people who never watched a Korean movie in their lives but now are falling all over themselves to tell you about Parasite never miss a trick, you know.

I mean, make no mistake. This is one of the worst — if not the worst — movies that you’ll ever suffer through. I’m not going to romanticize this or tell you it’s so bad it’s good or say that people just don’t understand. Seeing Taylor Swift warble on about “Beautiful Ghosts” or Dame Judi Dench dead staring into your eyes like some kidnap victim forced to beg for her life is like crawling on your knees across concrete on your bloody pilgrimage to a Mexican holy place, except that there’s no chance that God is going to hear your prayers or answer your pleas.

You’re the one who decided to watch this. And there’s no whiff of the divine on the Thames tonight.

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