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Cats (2019)


Ok. Sod the lot of you. Old Jack knows what you’re thinking: not in a million years will you ever sit through this renowned disaster of a movie. Well, I did, and you know what? It is exactly as good as the stage show. For the smell of ’80s theatre land, you have the freaky of over-applied CGI. For the plotlessness of a string of sung poems, you have a fairly cogent narrative. And for the series of fun, sad, weird or repellant character studies, you have fun, sad, weird or repellant character studies. So, yeah, sod you if you can’t access the suspension of disbelief genes on this one. If you can watch a cartoon, bask in sci-fi, laugh at the mixture of nonsense and fantasy of La La Land or the Wizard of Oz, then this film, imperfect but trying, deserves your time the same way journalism doesn’t. Old Jack isn’t saying watch it without a sugary drink, or anything, but join me and Wally as it lands on digital: Cats.

The thing begins with a car pitching up somewhere in London’s West End, throwing out a sack which clearly has something in it. Cats converge – feline, unnervingly sexy, and jumpy as Francesca Hayward‘s Victoria – a white cat lady thing – gets things going. A couple of numbers in (she is clearly the ballet cat) and the central conceit lands rather better than in the stage version: all the cats want another life in the heavy side lair and sing for their hopes. Later we discover the decision is Judi Dench‘s – as Old Deuteronomy – which is nice. She looks like a judge.

Ok, you’ve probably heard there was an arsehole problem. Really. It was someone’s job to CGI out an earlier decision to give them all feline bum starfish holes anuses (clear?). And that’s great. The CGI, if you’ve got an imagination, is generally unalarming. Some crimes do abound: mice, cockroaches, Hayward’s face when sat on a railway track, and the thing they’ve done to many of the male cats. For a film with so many kicked-in-the-nuts gags, well…Idris Elba‘s Macavity should have kept on his coat cos…there’s nothing there…

Once Victoria gets the game, her kindness underpins the story. Scared by the evil Macavity, she pities magician cats and old cats and ex glamour cats with equal delicacy. Actually, that is a problem. Perhaps too much delicacy. You never quite lose the sense that the ballet-cat is a cut above the musical theatre cats and – whilst she hasn’t noticed – everyone else has. Mostly because she sings a new song several, um, musical note things above the other cats. Young Steve assured me this is common in musicals, making clear the lead, but…it shut down old Jack’s hearing aid.

You’re wondering why I’m not snarking more. Well, old Mrs Jack made me go to the stage show in the 1980s. We had a tense discussion ahead of the experience that boiled down to me saying no-fucking-way a lot and her threatening to withdraw slurpy times for a full quarter. So, we went to see it. And, you know what? There’s a moment in the evening when lots of beautiful women crawl over the audience and make purring noises in their ears. There was a glorious minute when two cats breathed in old Jack’s ear, and I could feel old Mrs Jack’s claws gouging six holes in my arm. Worth it.

And, yes, I transferred those feelings to the film. Hayward, her cohort and their CGI fur, are very pleasing for this old straight guy to be near for two hours. Not so much the men. The Elba castration is a common theme, and it has to be said that feline goes with feminine in the same way cat-like doesn’t go with masculine.

The action moves from streets to rooftops to an old barge (they put Ray Winstone in trousers which is…kind) and then a big old building with space to do mighty dance numbers, contain Taylor Swift sinking to the floor while drugging the competitors for the heavyside with catnip and hips, and sort of resolve the plot.

Best bits? Ian McKellen‘s Gus the theatre cat, old and sad and craving ancient moments of celebrity. Not a patch on John Mills for fragile loss in his day (Cats in 1998), he still connects with Dench with a glance and the audience with a tragedy. Ditto Jennifer Hudson‘s Grizabella whose rendition of Memory is possibly (really – ever listened to the words?) a warning to oldsters performed through a wall of snot. Tears. Well, snot. Well, I was never sure. Still, bloody good song. And it looked like snot. Oh, and house destruction by mischievous siblings. And moments of James Corden‘s petulance. And…that sense of effort that hangs off every second of it. From composition to sets to real vs CGI moments to cat movement (ignoring those moments where your brain fills in the wires aiding lifts unnatural for human or cat) to narrative sense brought to the mishmash of old poems…

But you don’t want spoilers because YOU WILL WATCH THIS…not least for Mr Mistofelees’ number…but YOU WILL WATCH THIS…

Oh, come on. There’s a pandemic out there, you’re stuck at home, Cats cost $95 million and only has $21.5 million to go to break even…

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