There's a moment in Tom Hooper's new Cats adaptation where an evil cat played by Idris Elba grabs Sir Ian McKellen's Gus the Theatre Cat by the shoulders and shouts "Meow!" into the void, causing them to vanish into thin air. The characters are covered in a computer-generated mess of fur and whiskers that never exactly matches up with their faces and meet one another behind the stage at an old, rundown theater filled with stray cats. We learn later that they magically jumped from the theater to a barge in the middle of a river so that Gus couldn't compete in a contest that would allow him to be reborn into kitty heaven. Why am I telling you this? Well, this scene is all you need to know to understand exactly what you're getting into with Cats.
Perhaps the most unhinged and outlandish movie to hit theaters in as long as I can remember, Cats is a brave, bold failure that needs to be seen in order to be believed. The fact that it actually exists the way it does is absurd, even before seeing how poorly it all works together. Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning(!) director of The King's Speech and Les Miserables, cast names like Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Hudson, Sir Ian McKellen, and Dame Judi Dench to portray a band of felines that walk, talk, dance, eat, and flirt like humans. But don't you dare address them as anything but cats, there's a whole speech delivered directly to the camera warning you against exactly that.
The plot of this movie doesn't make a whole lot of sense, mainly because there isn't much of one to begin with. The cats of this particular part of London refer to themselves as the Jellicle cats (which is just the name of their gang, not a breed or anything, so don't get hung up on it early on) who believe that there is a better life for them beyond the moon, in a place called the Heavyside Lair. Each year, many of the cats perform songs for Old Deuteronomy (Dench) who then makes the "Jellicle Choice," sending one of them in a shiny balloon through the clouds in order to be reborn. It's basically the Hunger Games, but only one cat every year gets the privilege of dying.
Instead of that story really playing out, however, Cats is just a show-and-tell presentation where we spend nearly the entire film being introduced to each and every feline through a different song explaining why that specific cat is supposed to be interesting. These performances all last about twice as long as they ever really should and don't get across any point other than "Hey, I'm that cat that tap-dances, so don't forget that when you're sending one to the great beyond!" All the while, Elba's Macavity (the mystery cat) is kidnapping every contestant using his dusty Thanos magic so that he will be the only one left standing and Deuteronomy will have to make him the Jellicle Choice. Spoiler alert: That plan doesn't work out.
It makes sense why Cats works as a stage play, regardless of how wild the actual premise is. The costumes are fun and inventive, the sets are enormous, and the idea of all of these different cat songs works like a sprawling revue of sorts. On screen, not an ounce of that translates, but this movie tries like hell to convince you that it does. Hooper brings the play to the film in a beat-for-beat recreation, which we can now confirm is the absolute worst way to try and adapt this production. The best? Not at all.
There's so much more to say about the utter insanity of Cats that even 30,000 words wouldn't be enough. It's nonsensical, hard to look at, and the hypersexuality is off the charts. Rebel Wilson tears off her cat skin suit and teaches humanoid beetles how to dance. James Corden gets hit in the testicles for laughs. Ian McKellen, an all-time treasure of a man who has been knighted by the Queen of England, laps water from a dish and hisses at his co-stars. This movie is deranged.
Cats is a special kind of terrible, though. No matter how ridiculous it gets, the cast never once backs down. Every single one of them is all-in at every moment. It's a trainwreck from start to finish, but the sort of trainwreck that captures your attention with its audacity and never lets you go. It's gripping in the most delightfully horrible way and easily one of the worst movies of the decade, by leaps and bounds. It's such a unique and confident brand of awful, you'll probably want to watch it again.
This is the next Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Room. Years from now, theaters will hold midnight screenings of Cats where people will bring animals and sing along and throw glitter in the air when Taylor Swift appears on the screen. Cats will be a part of cult film culture forever. Because, as bad as it is, Cats is wholly and completely unforgettable.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars