Wednesday, April 15, 1998

Good-looking but lacking

Movie: City of Angels

Posted on Wed, Apr 15, 1998 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 2.00

"City of Angels" is a good-looking and totally unnecessary reworking of the excellent Wim Wenders film "Wings of Desire" (1988). Directed by Brad Silberling, whose only previous credit is the kiddie fiasco "Casper," it ably avails itself of the advantages of a Hollywood high-gloss production while replacing Wenders' ruminations with a conventionally structured love story.

Seth (Nicolas Cage) is an angel, one of many who, unseen by humans, walk among us and read our minds. Though their primary function seems to be to assist dying people during their moment of transition, work must be scarce: They spend a great deal of time at the local library, absorbing works of literature and poetry through unsuspecting readers. (Considering what most people actually read, this could quickly become tedious.)

Maggie Rice (Meg Ryan) is a heart surgeon whose main job is to see that people don't get to the point where they need angelic assistance. One day she loses a patient and Seth, who is in the operating room, falls in love with her. When he "reveals" himself to her (there's no point in questioning the ad hoc rules of fantasy), she instantaneously falls in love with him. All that's left is for him to become human, join Maggie in a life of earthly bliss and let the film slide toward its heavily (and arbitrarily) ironic conclusion.

Cage remains an interesting actor, but the interest here lies mainly in watching him grapple with the role, reaching deep for a sagely forlorn look when non-corporeal, then a playfully childlike one after taking the plunge into humanness -- he's the movies' first method angel. Ryan is good at looking smitten and Dennis Franz is on hand as a fallen angel who now seems intent on gorging himself to death -- inexplicably, we're supposed to find this amusing.

And yet, this could have been much worse. The schmaltzy Hollywood score is largely held in check. The visuals are impressive and panoramic. The angels, all in black, massing on the beach at sunset is a composition with primal undertones. But basically all we get are signs of taste and glimpses of imagination while we wait to find out when Ryan and Cage are gonna get it on.


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