Cats ★★★

Sorry, haters—after thirty-odd years of attempts we now have a movie of CATS, and…it’s fine. Not great, but CATS, eccentric, endearing, and uneven, isn’t great. It’s certainly better than the recent, listless Broadway revival, a tired going-through-the-motions. The director and Lee Hall (BILLY ELLIOT) have streamlined the stage musical, and given it more of a script and a narrative spine; it’s always been stuff and nonsense, but it’s the best of the stuff and nonsense, with necessary additions and subtractions to bring it it under two hours. (Andrew Lloyd Webber wisely released his grip on the material, not that I dislike the films of EVITA and PHANTOM.) Anyone not onboard with a film version will surely appreciate its relative brevity in an era when 135 minutes is some sort of norm; then again anyone not onboard with “singing cats” (per Paul Newman on Letterman) won't be attending.

But if you are going and have some grounding in and tolerance for the material, some of it is kitty (and kitschy) heaven, and none of it hell. While the handmade quality of the source is absent the combination of humanoid mo-cap CGI and outsized sets mostly works, and unlike the show the movie gets out of its junkyard set environment and explores London often enough. The book (er, script) accommodates the star turns in several shades: vaudeville (Rebel Wilson festooned in mice and roaches, James "Every Other Movie Musical Must Include Me" Corden, Ian McKellen) PG-rated friskiness (Idris Elba, Jason Derulo, and Taylor Swift), wide-eyed innocence (ballerina Francesca Hayward, very cute), and gravitas (Judi Dench, a feline Yoda, finally appearing in CATS decades after departing the original West End production before it opened). Four out of five humans and every cat surveyed wanted Jennifer Hudson to play the forlorn Grizabella and sing "Memory." Done.

Full disclosure: The studio plied me with free popcorn, water, tattoos, cat ears, and "Meow-mosas" before and after the press screening. I swear it made no difference in my assessment. The uninitiated may need something stronger if coerced into seeing it; but CATS is such an oddball property it may one day join THE APPLE, CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, and XANADU as gonzo early 80s musicals, which at heart it still is.

(This was the first, and probably the last, movie I'll see at The Landmark at 57 West. It's a nice venue, not as "downtown" as the shuttered Landmark on Houston, but as far away from my Brooklyn abode as Heaviside Layer.)