Thursday, 5 July 2012

Angel-A (2005)

Angel-A (Luc Besson, 2005) is sort of what would happen if you remade It's A Wonderful Life as a hybrid film noir/gangster flick. Maybe that in itself is reason enough to watch it. Or maybe wiser viewers than I would have recognized from that description that the film could never work. Or maybe both those things are true: Angel-A is a mess, but you might like it anyway.

Pity she didn't run into Javert as well.
Nebbish Arab-American expatriate Andre (Jamel Debbouze) is in the process of committing suicide by Seine when he meets Angela (Rie Rasmussen) gearing up for her own fatal dip. Andre rescues her, and in time-honored movie tradition (who started this stupid tradition? Probably screenwriters scrambling for plots), the woman he saved becomes "his", following Andre everywhere like a leggy blonde puppy. Andre is a small-time gangster who owes large wads of cash to all the wrong people, and Angela appoints herself responsible for absolving his debts, which she manages through your standard silver screen cocktail of sex, violence, and violent sex. It eventually emerges that Angela is Andre's guardian angel, but when the two develop romantic feelings for each other, things get complicated. Well, Besson probably meant for things to get complicated, but all that really happens is Andre and Angela shove each other and yell a bit and then decide to live happily ever after.

Generally speaking, most movies made in the last 10-20 years could lose 10-20 minutes without sacrificing quality. Almost no movie I know of feels too short. However, I'm willing to bestow this dubious honour on Angel-A. The film only runs an hour thirty, and that's not enough, because Besson is simultaneously trying to make a theological fantasy, a romance, and an action flick. What he actually produces is a mishmash incomplete on all three counts: we don't believe Angel-A's half-baked cosmology, its puppy love story, or its soft-boiled criminal underworld.

Angel-A gets a 2/5. It isn't really a bad movie, and I had fun watching it. I'll always prefer a film that goes too far over one that doesn't go far enough. Overall, though, it feels as though Besson had no idea what he actually wanted to do in this movie and just decided to try and do everything. Because he's Besson, it almost works, but he's on much shakier ground here than in his masterpieces Leon (1994) and (La Femme) Nikita (1990).

I don't really know what to say about this image, so, uh, here it is for you.
SCENE STEALER: Angela describes herself as "a sexy bitch", but thankfully, Rie Rasmussen invests the character with more than that. Rasmussen is genuinely odd-looking as well as beautiful, almost too tall and too blonde: it's not hard to buy her as an otherworldly being. The character also has an agreeably hard edge -- you get the idea that this chain-smoking, scowling angel would have raised a few eyebrows in heaven. Even after she's confessed her love to Andre she continues to embody snarky French ennui.

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