By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
The battle that gives “Catfight” its title and dramatic framework is a series of three hyperviolent encounters between Ashley (Anne Heche) and Veronica (Sandra Oh), two equally despicable New Yorkers. Former college frenemies whose fortunes have radically diverged, the women harbor an unspecified grudge that flares to life during a chance encounter and leaves Veronica in a two-year coma.
Suspended animation is, like the bust-ups, a recurring motif in this wildly uneven yet weirdly hypnotic satire from Onur Tukel. Drawing its energy from revenge and its jagged humor from a black well of contempt for the wealthy, the movie fashions a world in which the only likable characters are the crazy and the doomed.
The two leads are mesmerizing, hurling themselves into their physically demented roles with ferocious commitment. Veronica, trophy wife to a slick SoHo war profiteer (Damian Young, always an asset), is an entitled lush who’s constantly dashing the artistic hopes of their sensitive son. Ashley is a furiously unsuccessful artist whose bloody, politically charged canvases keep her dependent on her long-suffering partner (Alicia Silverstone). Neither gives a fig for the real war playing out in the background, relayed through the jaded banter of a late-night television host.
Veering between clunky social commentary and inspired observation (like a hilarious skewering of Brooklyn baby showers), “Catfight” is an acid attack on callous privilege. And if it seems to take a little too much pleasure in the sight of women waling on each other, it also serves as a proudly unsubtle reminder of the fragility of civility. If we need one, that is.