“Memory, all alone in the moonlight,” Jennifer Hudson croons to the moon in Cats, giving it her all as cast-off Grizabella – and it’s goosebump-inducing.
Almost every other moment in the world’s weirdest musical is as distressing as a moggie on heat, hissing in the dark.
Roundly mocked when the first trailer dropped earlier this year, Cats is as awful as feared, not least because the all-star cast – Hudson, Taylor Swift, Judy Dench and Idris Elba – is swathed in creepily rendered digital fur while maintaining recognisably human faces.
The overall effect is roughly akin to the first trailer for the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movie and you have to wonder what Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl, Les Misérables) was thinking.
Maybe, not much. Or too much.
Hooper shares writing duties with Lee Hall (War Horse, Billy Elliot) and the other great mistake they make is translating it more or less faithfully from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vision.
The problem is that Webber’s weakest but inexplicably long-running musical is an inherently theatrical experience.
Incredibly costumed characters prowl the aisles, clawing at the audience in a noble attempt to distract from the fact it has next to no plot.
Somehow the magic of what is one big roll call of the Cats cast works.
Without that thrill of fur in your face, the Cats movie is dead-eyed on arrival.
Very loosely adapted from poet TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, it celebrates the crazy hijinks of our feline friends.
The gist sees a bunch of ‘Jellicle’ cats compete to rise up to the ‘Heaviside Layer’ and be reborn. So basically Survivor but the winner gets to die, which makes about as much sense as anything else here.
It’s a ludicrous set-up and most of the cast take it way too seriously, particularly ballerina Francesca Hayward’s abandoned Victoria, whose pained stares down the barrel of the camera soon grow irksome.
The only way Hooper could have pulled this off is to hype it up to fairy dust level a la Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge or Romeo + Juliet.
The beautiful sets do all the heavy lifting, with a gorgeous surreal London where major landmarks glitter with neon ads for cat products.
Most of the vocal performances are dire, and even a late-in-the-game appearance by Swift as Bombalurina is lacklustre.
Jason Derulo’s Rum Tum Tugger doesn’t fare much better.
Elba, as magical baddie Macavity, is a wonderful actor woefully miscast.
Even Dench fails to twinkle as Jellicle leader Old Deuteronomy, and her double fur – coat and, well, coat – is bizarre.
Ian McKellen is the only person who has the requisite amount of fun as Gus the Theatre Cat. His licking of a bowl of water, a perfectly realised nod to cat life, is the only moment of pure joy in an oasis of drudgery.
Dragging on for almost two hours of poor singing and predominantly forgettable choreography, Cats is Hooper’s way of maliciously toying with us like a half-dead mouse wishing for sweet release.
It will take many a moon to get over the dud joke battle between a dire Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots and James Corden’s Bustopher Jones.
They duel to be the worst thing about the furball vomit of a film.
Even Hudson’s Memory can’t save it.
With Grizabella barely featured, it’s too little far too late.
If you can’t make it to the live show, you’d be better off flicking on the 1998 live recording with Elaine Paige.