“CATS” — 11⁄2 stars — Francesca Hayward, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Idris Elba; PG (some rude and suggestive humor); running time: 110 minutes; in general release
SALT LAKE CITY — Watching “Cats” feels like sitting through a two-hour concert by a band that only has one good song. Check that: Watching “Cats” feels like sitting through a two-hour concert by a band that only has one good song, and its members are dressed in furry body suits and behaving like felines on stage.
There are a lot of things wrong with Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical, but the most obvious flaws eventually take a back seat to some unexpected ones. For fans of the stage production, this might not be a problem, but on the big screen, “Cats” just doesn’t work.
The story starts with Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a newly abandoned cat that has been left in a shady district of London in the middle of the night. She’s introduced to several local residents one by one — furry magical felines who are competing in a special contest for the chance at a new life.
Each cat comes with a highly choreographed song and dance. There’s the swanky, well-dressed Bustopher Jones (James Corden), and the garish Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson). Mungojerrie (Danny Collins) and Rumpleteazer (Naoimh Morgan) are a pair of sneaky thieves, and Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) is a magician. Ian McKellen plays Gus, the Theater Cat, and Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (Steven McRae) adds a tap dance to his routine.
“Cats” is pretty devoid of narrative conflict. The closest thing to an antagonist is Macavity (Idris Elba), a devious cat in furs who plots to get rid of his competition so he can persuade Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) to name him the winner.
If you’ve seen any of the promotional materials, you’ll already be aware of the concerns with the CGI character renderings. Combined with all of the writhing and hissing and scratching and general feline behavior, the total effect is a little creepy. And given that several of the cats also wear regular clothes, the audience is left with the impression that everyone else is naked. It’s just weird.
You do get used to the feline antics after a while, and if that were the biggest problem, “Cats” might still work at a certain level. The bigger issue is that the film completely lacks tension or any real semblance of plot or story (it’s based on a book of poems by T.S. Eliot). Macavity provides only a half-hearted effort at antagonism, and the film feels more like a sequence of loosely connected musical vignettes.
Even then, the production might be able to sustain some energy as a kind of concert film, but “Cats” is just a slow-paced slog, the lone highlight being Jennifer Hudson’s performance of “Memory” as the down-on-her-luck cat Grizabella. And frankly, that one highlight — along with some notable dance choreography — far from justifies a ticket.
Broadway fans might enjoy the results more than the layperson, but it’s still difficult to see anything even a diehard fan would get out of seeing this onscreen. “Cats” was a groundbreaking Broadway musical, but it just doesn’t work as a movie.
Rating explained: “Cats” is rated PG for some suggestive humor.