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Clipped Wings

Downbeat Angel never soars into the rarefied air that it so desperately desires

Chances are you don't know a whole lot about Angel Eyes other than it's the brand-new Jennifer Lopez movie. Maybe you also know that it co-stars Jim Caviezel. It's been described in some articles as a supernatural romance, and Caviezel himself has said that he can't tell what the movie is about without giving too much away. Clearly, Warner Bros. wants an air of mystery to surround the proceedings, and that may be because director Luis Mandoki, creator of such forgettable weepies as When a Man Loves a Woman, is obviously trying to ape the stylings of M. Night Shyamalan, with his slow pacing, near-supernatural stillness, drab locations and monochromatic cinematography. Make people suspect that there's a big surprise coming, and it only adds to the illusion.

Unfortunately, not only does nothing surprising happen, next to nothing happens at all. Maybe that's the surprise, and if so, please accept my apologies for being a spoiler. The film opens with police officer Sharon Pogue (Lopez) rescuing an unseen victim of a car crash. The sequence is carefully structured so that we never see the victim's face -- could that be the big surprise? If so, it's a flop, since there's really only one character it could possibly be, and you've almost certainly guessed who already.

Night moves aside, Angel Eyes is a unique and striking film for at least the first two-thirds of its running time, after which it turns, all too sadly, predictable and mundane. It must have been a hard sell for the studio: A downbeat romance between a violent female cop and a mysterious potential lunatic hardly sounds like Saturday-night date material. Lopez's presence will, of course, guarantee a big opening weekend regardless. (If she can make The Wedding Planner a hit, and convince folks she's a pop star, this ought to be no sweat.)

Now to rejoin the story, or absence of same, in progress: Officer Pogue, the implausibly glamorous sole female member of her squad, is having trouble sleeping and controlling her temper, both of which stem from the childhood trauma of calling the police on her abusive father (Victor Argo), something her family has never forgiven her for. Mysterious Good Samaritan Catch (Caviezel) is a dazed-looking chap who wanders the streets doing minor good deeds like breaking into people's cars to turn their headlights off. Then one day he happens to be in the right place at the right time as an unruly suspect is about to shoot Sharon. Catch makes the save, and there begins an unlikely courtship.

Being innocent and childlike, Catch is prone to saying cute things like "Kids wave at firemen. People should wave at cops." He's also kind to the spooky, wide-eyed kid who lives in his building, as well as to the stray dog named Bob that he makes his own. As his moniker implies, however, there is indeed a… catch. The man won't give his full name or talk about his past. His apartment is virtually empty, save for drawers full of Power Ranger toys. And he has a strange fixation on leaving doors open. Still, he's enough of a spirit guide that being around him helps Sharon figure out her own familial issues. He clearly has issues of his own.

And then he's revealed to be an angel -- no, wait -- he's actually a supervillain who caused the car crash we saw in the beginning! They call him Mr. Glass -- psych! None of those things happen, because, as already noted, nothing really happens. Catch occasionally does some really odd things, like walking up to the stage during a jazz concert and busting out a rendition of "Nature Boy" on the trumpet, but his motivations are ultimately mundane.

Lest this sound like too much of a pan, it must be said that Caviezel is fantastic in this role. It may simply be a feature-length expansion of his shy, homeless bum in Pay It Forward, but it's clear that no one can pull timidity off quite the way he can. When Sharon flakes on a date, Caviezel delivers the film's most memorable scene, as he goes to Sharon's house, pounds on the door repeatedly, then once inside, delivers a stern lecture on the importance of keeping appointments.

Terrence Howard (The Best Man) is also particularly good as Sharon's edgy partner and a man she'd probably be better suited for than Catch (though such an option is never explored). As for Lopez, she's certainly not awful, but she'd be more convincing as an actress in general if, for once, she'd allow herself to look bad -- even for a split second. It's a particularly conspicuous problem in this film: Cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski (The Decalogue, of all things) revels in the stubble and rings under the eyes when it comes to most of the cast, but when he turns the camera onto Lopez, she seems to glow as if she were shooting another pop video. Even allowing for the movie-star glam factor, the diva look on a cop just doesn't cut it.

 
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