Despite its vocals, ‘Cats’ was a nightmarish visual assault

The following is a review from Johnson City Press staff writer Brandon Paykamian.

If you’ve Googled movie reviews for “Cats,” you’ve probably immediately noticed words like “travesty,” “mind-boggling” and “baffling.” Peter Bradshaw, a film critic for the Guardian, appropriately dubbed the film a “feline folly.”

But I don’t just rely on reviews (or uncomfortable trailers) to tell me what to think of a movie. I felt the need to see it for myself. After all, journalists are often expected to subject themselves to boring, tedious or downright unpleasant experiences.

When I arrived at Bristol’s Marquee Cinemas on Monday night to pick the movie and choose my seats, I looked over my shoulder to make sure nobody noticed what I selected on the touchscreen. I already felt like a masochist for deciding to go see it in the first place, considering I could not find one positive review among dozens that discussed the film almost as if it was a crime against humanity. 

The film has continued to be dominated at the box office by “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the newest Star Wars film that has left many fans of the franchise divided. (Let’s face it, Star Wars fans are never totally happy with anything.) Despite mixed reviews, I suspect most of the people at the theater that night were coming to see that instead of “Cats,” and I can’t say I blame them. 

Nobody I’ve talked to who subjected themselves to “Cats” has actually really enjoyed this film. If they didn’t outright loathe the film or find it amusing, they certainly weren’t raving over it either.

Though I struggled to find a parking space when I arrived, my group of friends made up three of six people total at the 6:40 p.m. showing. Of the group sitting in front of us, one person got up and left.

The film is an adaptation of a musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on TS Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” I’m not a huge theater person myself, but the original musical isn’t bad. It’s regarded as a cult classic among many hardcore musical theater fans.

However, this film adaptation was nothing short of an outright visual assault. If you closed your eyes, you could maybe, just maybe appreciate the music and vocals, despite Taylor Swift’s fake British accent being briefly featured. But the movie’s visual aesthetics were truly bizarre and made for a dysphoric film experience.

The film’s visuals — the sets, the CGI that blended human and cat features with nightmarish results — just couldn’t be overlooked. It overshadowed any redeemable qualities the film might’ve otherwise had. This remained true even after a last-ditch attempt by director Tom Hooper’s production team to patch up the CGI following a trailer that left viewers bewildered.

Aside from the horrible look of the film, one of my friends (who starred in theater productions of the musical) cringed at how it often deviated from the original musical. Things like character appearances were moved around, and numbers that were not in the original production were forced into the film. 

A few times, my friend remarked, “They’re ruining my childhood,” or “This isn’t supposed to be here.” My friends said they enjoyed themselves overall, but I can’t help but think that was because of the strange spectacle of it all.

With a budget of nearly $100 million and a talented cast, one can’t help but imagine that the film could’ve had some potential. I wanted to resist the urge to be too harsh and merciless in my review of the film, as many film reviews often are, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say I enjoyed the film.

A small part of me wanted to push back against jaded critics who never seem to want to let people enjoy anything. Another small part of me wanted to genuinely give the film credit for boldly “going for it.” I even assumed that maybe I could enjoy this film in the way in which I enjoy bad, campy films. But I couldn’t. 

For now, singer Jason Derulo has defended his involvement in this film, calling it “brave” and artistic, but the rest of the cast will likely regard this as a low, undignified point in their career if they haven’t already. For God’s sake, an actor like Ian McKellen shouldn’t be on all fours lapping up milk! And even James Corden said Monday that he hadn’t watched it yet after hearing it was “terrible.” 

It wasn’t subversive; it wasn’t a “brave piece of art.” It was just. Simply. Bad.