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Rated 3.06 stars
by 567 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Heaven Help Us
by Adam Hakari

Angel-A, the latest feature from very busy filmmaker Luc Besson, never quite takes off thematically, but the film at least looks great enough and boasts a fairly brisk 90-minute gaze into its odd little universe.

André (Jamel Debbouze) is a small-time con with a big mouth. His habitual fibbing and borrowing from various shady loan sharks has him up to his ears in debt, threatened by seemingly every gangster in Paris. Hoping to be the master of his own destiny, André decides to end his life by jumping off a bridge. But just as he's about to take the plunge, he spots Angela (Rie Rasmussen), a blonde, statuesque beauty, who jumps in first, with André postponing his own suicide to save this mystery woman's life.

As our beleagured protagonist soon finds out, Angela has no intentions of leaving his side or letting him try for another go at ending his life. She's made it her mission to help André get his act together, accompanying him to all those he owes and miraculously getting him out of one sticky situation after another. However, as their time together progresses, André begins to suspect Angela is no ordinary girl, that perhaps a higher power is responsible for sending some help to get his life in order.

I'm always intrigued to see what happens when a director who's been known to throw him or herself into high-profile projects decides to take a breather and try something low-key. In the case of Besson, Angel-A is about as far removed from the special effects smogasbord of The Fifth Element or the ambitious fantasy world of Arthur and the Invisibles as he could get, settling down to focus more on characters than on the bells and whistles. But alas, Besson reaches for the stars here when his story would have been best remaining down to earth. He begins the film on a terrific note, setting the stage for a quirky dramedy in a style not unlike Woody Allen's. The black-and-white photography is absolutely gorgeous, and even though it doesn't seem to serve any thematic or artistic purpose, you eventually can't imagine the film looking as good in color. Still, as  Angel-A progresses, Besson has a tendency to lose sight of his simple goals, shedding a bit of his picture's strange magic by overcomplicating the plot to an almost astounding degree. The direction Besson goes with André's world turns out to be something that could've been accomplished just as easily through a 15-minute meeting with Dr. Phil, let alone having qualified as a situation requiring the Almighty's immediate attention.

Debbouze (last seen as a conflicted soldier in the great Days of Glory) makes a sympathetic enough goofball, faring well as an all-around nice guy who needs to get his priorities straight. Rasmussen also brings the right amount of charisma and spunk to the character of Angela, who simultaneously nags André about changing his ways while pretty much beating the stuffing out of anyone who threatens him. The pair shares a good amount of chemistry, but it's when Besson tries to thrust the relationship into much stranger and deeper territory that the fun generated from their discussions takes a back seat to clunky plot mechanics which slow the film down to a crawl.

While I can't fully recommend Angel-A, it's one of those films I sort of want people to see -- just so I can hear their reactions. Stylistically, Angel-A is top-notch stuff, but where themes are concerned, it pretty much boils down to being It's a Wonderful Life in drag.

MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)

(Released by Sony Pictures and rated "R" for language and some sexual content.)

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