Spoiler alert! Mild spoilers ahead for “Cats,” the new musical fever dream (er, movie) starring Taylor Swift.
As unabashed fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical, we’re happy to report that the new film adaptation (in theaters nationwide Friday) is just as blissfully deranged and often unintentionally funny as we’d hoped – a bizarre midnight-movie-in-the-making overflowing with catchy tunes, good intentions and some genuinely moving moments.
One of the many strange charms of this new “Cats” is watching celebrities such as Taylor Swift, James Corden and Ian McKellen dancing and singing as uncanny CGI felines. Rebel Wilson performing Busby Berkeley-style choreography with a chorus line of humanoid cockroaches? Sure. Jennifer Hudson belting emotional power ballad “Memory” before soaring through the clouds in a giant chandelier? Why not?
Swift, a 10-time Grammy winner and self-proclaimed “cat lady,” makes what is essentially a glorified cameo as Bombalurina, an impish orange Bengal cat who doesn’t appear onscreen until roughly an hour and a half into the movie.
Bombalurina’s role in the film is expanded as a loyal henchwoman to the nefarious Macavity (Idris Elba), who is vying to become the so-called “Jellicle Choice.” Each year, the elderly feline Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) chooses one cat who will be reborn into a new life. With Bombalurina’s help, Macavity attempts to eliminate the competition by kidnapping and imprisoning other cats on a barge in the middle of London’s Thames River (as you do).
‘I loved the weirdness of it’: Taylor Swift is totally down with the new ‘Cats’ movie
Descending from the ceiling of a dilapidated theater on a brightly lit crescent moon, Swift’s Bombalurina sprinkles catnip from a sparkly canister onto unsuspecting tabbies below, effectively hypnotizing them. Landing on the ground, she proceeds to sing the musical’ssultriest number, “Macavity: The Mystery Cat,” before her cohort swoops in and captures Old Deuteronomy.
Swift makes the most of her brief screen time, bringing her unabating charisma to the flirtatious feline. Decked head to toe in digital fur, she gamely slinks, shimmies and scampers across the screen with a litter of backup dancers, singing in a light British accent and mostly nailing the song’s brassy second half (made more impressive by the fact that all vocals were recorded live on the set, rather than in a recording studio).
If there’s one thing that’s disappointing about Swift’s performance, it’s that there isn’t more of it. After getting whisked away by Bombalurina and Macavity, Old Deuteronomy vehemently insists that Macavity will never be her Jellicle Choice because he has no “soul.”
“He’s got soul!” Bombalurina yells defiantly. And that is Swift’s sole line of dialogue, before disappearing for the rest of the movie.
The “Lover” singer is by no means the standout of “Cats” (we’d reserve that title for Wilson or Dench, who are given much more to do and totally encapsulate everything that’s so outrageous and weird about this movie). But she more than holds her own against a fiercely talented cast, and even co-wrote a perfectly fine (if slightly forgettable) ballad, “Beautiful Ghosts,” sung by dancer-turned-actress Francesca Hayward in the film.
We’re sure Swift’s own cats – Olivia, Meredith and Benjamin – would be proud.
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