Saturday, August 13, 2011

Trying To Be More Than It Is: Angel Eyes Fails.

The Good: Acting (surprisingly), Overall plot, Character development.
The Bad: Thematically heavy-handed, Rocky beginning, Attempts to be ethnic.
The Basics: An average film that floats on the notion that it defied one or two of my notions, Angel Eyes did not bore me and wasn't as bad as I anticipated.

Occasionally, I go on streaks where I'm recommending a lot of films or books or c.d.s and I get to feeling bad about it. There's a lot of stuff I don't like and I have rather discriminatory tastes as far as media presentations are concerned. When I feel I've been too nice to the media at large, I got to the library and I get out some films I'm fairly sure I won't like, just so I have something to pan so my reviews are balanced. Today, I went to the library with that intent and I got out two films featuring Jennifer Lopez. I figured I had some easy pickin's; every time one of her bubbly incessant, sugary dance-pop pieces of crap songs come on the radio, I turn it off. So, when I took out Angel Eyes I figured, it was post "J-Lo: The Phenomenon" had begun and it would be something for her to put out there trying to sell her image. Well, every now and then, one of my attempts to balance my reviews fails (damn my taking things as they come!).

The truth is, Angel Eyes isn't a bad film. It's not a great film, but it's not the terrible dreck I had assumed it would be. Is the purpose of Angel Eyes to sell an audience on a body supposedly insured for one billion dollars? Yes. And that's distracting. How distracting? Very distracting. Let's start with the title. Angel Eyes. It's attempting to get us, the viewer, looking at Jennifer Lopez. Not Sharon Pogue (the character she plays), but Jennifer Lopez. This is one of those horribly misnamed films. It's as if the people putting the film out changed it at the last minute to try and sell Jennifer Lopez. And hey, checking out the IMDB, I see that the working title for the film had been "Heart Of Town;" they should have kept it at that.

So, Sharon Pogue is a police officer, quite lost on the dating scene. She has a temper and is, to put it mildly, rough around the edges. She assists at the scene of a car accident and in an uncharacteristic bit of compassion stays with a person, encouraging them to live beyond the moment and to hold on for the paramedics. A year later, Sharon is on the streets, committing police brutality (interestingly enough the only suspects she loses her temper with and gets physical with are white), and being socially awkward. She ends up chasing a suspect, losing her gun to him and is about to be killed when Catch, a mysterious stranger that we the audience are smart enough to know is not there by happenstance, rescues her. Lucky Sharon.

What follows immediately is an awkward friendship leading slowly into a relationship and an exploration of Catch's past as well as Sharon's. They both have backstories and most of it is well played out.

The kickers are in continuity. I mean, pretty glaring stuff. For instance, the film opens at night. It's night and the police and paramedics are arriving at the scene of the accident on a major bridge in Chicago. The film opens with some of the most forced, unrealistic dialog I've ever seen in a police-themed film. I mean, Lopez's first lines made me think, "This review will be easy" At that point, I was betting it was a one out of ten film. But I digress. The film opens at night and it's raining heavily. When Catch remembers the moment of the accident, it's daylight. It's pretty bright daylight. Mock police all you want, but it doesn't take paramedics and police over two hours to get to an accident on a major bridge in Chicago. Doesn't happen that way.

Okay, so we get an awkward beginning where Sharon rescues Catch from the car and Catch rescues Sharon from a gunman. I was even willing to suspend my disbelief to believe Sharon didn't recognize Catch from the car wreck. However, she clearly sees him moments before the attack that results in him saving her. That is never addressed. That's somewhat troublesome. Especially as Sharon is portrayed as suspicious and guarded.

I found myself actually enjoying the film when the socially awkward Catch and the very guarded Sharon go to Sharon's apartment. The dialog they have flows well, the characters seem vital and real. In a move of almost subtlety, Sharon removes her last gun from her back while talking with Catch. We see her opening up.

There's a clunky moment between Sharon and her brother (her brother makes a comment about her coming to the construction sight in her "police uniform" and that reads wrong. It's obviously a uniform and in real life no one I can think of would add the "police" to it and spell out the obvious. This film, however, does), but for the most part, the middle is solid. As a relationship develops between Sharon and Catch, Sharon's history of family violence comes out as does the mystery of who Catch is and why he is there.

On the subject of the family violence, the first time the subject is broached, it's actually a wonderful scene. Sharon and her mom have a whole dialog alluding to her abusive father (whom she once had arrested for domestic abuse) while not making anything explicit. It went up a notch in that dialog alone. The problem is, it keeps coming up. When Sharon's brother hits his wife, every possible cliche in the book about domestic abuse is used. The characters try to address that, tying it back to the parents, but it falls flat, it's too late. The phrasing is already clunky and obvious. It's as if they said everything we've heard before and then the characters say, "I know you've heard that all before, but what are we supposed to do?" My answer would be "You ought to have innovated."

For the duration of the awkwardness between Sharon and Catch, they film is actually good, more than simply watchable but actually good. The film even gets good enough, flows well enough with the characters learning and growing through their interaction with each other that there comes the gratuitous "Jennifer Lopez Appears In As Little As We Can Afford Without Her Being Naked Scene" and it doesn't even feel gratuitous. And recall from my opening, I was looking for such scenes to help me pan this film. I still don't think this film was rated R. It was PG-13 at best.

When Sharon probes too hard, Catch begins to freak out and realize his own forgotten past. That works well. James Caviezel is wonderful in the role of Catch. He was also in Pay It Forward (reviewed here!) playing the same type of quiet, but competent character. He has the affect of one of those The X-Files freaks of the week who starts as a simple loner, but then is actually a mutant of some sort. James makes the role of Catch and his presence is far more impressive than Jennifer Lopez's.

Jennifer Lopez, for her part, holds her own acting. My thought on that front is that she should quit her night job and stick with acting. She has some potential for talent there or at least competence, which she lacks in her overproduced "musical" career.

The writing is inconsistent, especially in the beginning. The jibes that the officers exchange do not read as realistic and the partner loyalty (a la NYPD Blue) is completely lacking. In short, Sharon's character is written trying to be a tough streetsmart officer and it comes across as a rich actress trying to be something she's not. It's as if Lopez was saying to the people in the neighborhoods she grew up in, "See, I'm still one of you! I haven't changed!" Well, the $500 shoes say something different.

In the final analysis, though, it's a razor decision and in this case, the benefit is going in favor of the film. It was nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be or as awful as it could have been. If that's not reason enough to recommend an otherwise average film, I can't think of a good one. Actually, I can think of the exact moment I decided to "recommend" the film. Near the end, Sharon and Catch meet and it's after Sharon tells a story that anyone with experience knows is going to be a reversal story and Sharon tells a story in which her love for her estranged father comes through. Throughout the film, the importance of keeping appointments is stressed and when Sharon and Catch meet after that scene, he's late for meeting him and they did not say what I expected them to; Catch does not say he came because it's important to keep appointments.

It's a good thing I decided then, though; the last moment of the film cheesed me off; Catch, driving for the first time since his near-fatal car accident that opened the film, doesn't put on his seatbelt. Sigh. Sometimes I think I expect too much in terms of reasonable continuity.

For other works with Kari Matchett, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip


For other movie reviews, please click here to visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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