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Cats (2019)::rating::0.5::rating::0.5

Everybody who’s seen a preview for this movie has said it, so I’ll just join the cat-cophony:  The decision to slather Cats in creepy CGI hobbles it right out of the gate.  Digital tomfoolery transforms a talented cast into an awkward distraction, and shifts the focus toward everything wrong with this production.  All that was once magical about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved work gets stripped away, leaving us with an awesomely bad movie that shimmers with a strangely fascinating ugliness.

Consider yourselves warned:  If you aren’t familiar with the Broadway show, then this litter box will seem even stinkier.  Now that I’ve slapped a Surgeon General-style warning on this sum’bitch, let’s trudge onward.  It’s long-ago London, and cats prowl the rooftops and alleyways.  Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a white cat, finds herself dumped onto the cobblestones.  She runs afoul of the Jellicles, a local tribe of cats from all colors.  They greet Victoria with an uneasy fascination.

Turns out, the Jellicles are gearing up for their annual ball.  There, tribe leader Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench, looking a lot like the Cowardly Lion) will select a member to be reincarnated into a new life.  Every Jellicle jockeys to be the chosen one, and most of them get a chance to sing their case.  Along this journey, we meet recognizable stars:  James Corden as Bustopher, a gluttonous cat; Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots, a lazy cat who trains cockroaches; Macavity (Idris Elba) a villainous figure who desperately seeks to climb up the Jellicle ladder….the celebrities just keep on comin’.  Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift, and even poor Ian McKellen pop up for a moment or two.

The fact that we know who these people are works completely against the movie.  CGI clumsily frames their famous faces, drawing attention to just how fake everything is.  Their bodies dance around in an oddly artificial way, robbing the musical numbers of the energy and spirit of a theatrical production.  I can’t oversell it:  You’ll spend a lot of this movie staring in stunned disbelief.

It’s sad, but I can find a decent production of Cats buried underneath all the fleas and mange.  This cast is stocked with talent, and you can just imagine them all nailing a better version.  On the subject of production, I can’t figure out if the filmmakers sought to make a cinematic experience with a hint of theatricality, or vice versa.  Strangely, the end result resembles neither of those.  Cats feels like a bonfire made out of money.

One of my favorite baseball stats lies in that Babe Ruth hit 713 home runs, but he also struck out 1,330 times.  Ruth planned to either trot the bases or head for the dugout.  Likewise, it’s remarkable to see a movie like Cats swing so hard, yet miss so badly.  If there is a reason to see this film–again, you’ve been warned–it’s to appreciate the true scope of its badness.  Within every strikeout lies the strange poetry of what might’ve been, and Cats will serve as an monumental testament to wasted potential.

110 min.  PG.

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