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Wings Over Iowa

After playing a lovable gangster who becomes an instant Hollywood celebrity (in Get Shorty) and a lovable auto mechanic who becomes an instant genius (in Phenomenon), John Travolta has landed a gig as, well, the Archangel Michael--a visitor from the heavens who becomes instant salvation for three burned-out mortals stuck in rural Iowa. And one dog. Once again, he's as lovable as all get-out.

This is not as bad as it sounds. With or without his dancing shoes, the resurgent Travolta has a way about him, and in Nora Ephron's Michael, he brings all his charms to bear on a preposterous plot based on a pop craze: One recent survey found that 68 percent of Americans now believe in angels.

The movie's miracle is that Travolta, wearing big white wings under his overcoat, brings off the illusion pretty well. This Christmas, at least, good old Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life will have a little competition in the eternal good works department.

But not before Travolta's Michael trashes a couple of stereotypes. If you've never seen an angel with a beer belly scratching his crotch or an angel who chain-smokes Marlboros, chases women and yearns to see the world's largest ball of twine, then buckle your seat belts. He also spreads around his goodness and powers in an offhand kind of way--blowing out a rear tire here, knocking down an entire bank there, bringing love to a couple of cynics someplace else.

Otherwise, this Michael's more or less theologically correct. Still likes to fight evil. Still likes to dance--not on the head of a pin this time, but in a low-down Midwestern roadhouse called Joe's, where every woman in the place falls under his spell when he works out to "Chain of Fools."

His real business on Earth, though, is to redeem a pair of broken-down writers for a supermarket tabloid (William Hurt and Robert Pastorelli), an oft-married country-singer wannabe who's sworn off love (Andie MacDowell) and the tabloid's canine mascot, Sparky. Piled in the back of a beat-up station wagon stuffed with the entire major cast, the Archangel Michael does just that on the country roads between Iowa and Chicago. Feel like going along for the ride? There are worse journeys you could take.

--Gallo

Michael. Screenplay by Nora Ephron & Delia Ephron and Pete Dexter & Jim Quinlan. Directed by Nora Ephron. With John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt and Robert Pastorelli.

 
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