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Angel of the Mourning

The downbeat romance Angel Eyes is going to be a tough sell.

Chances are you don't know a whole lot about Angel Eyes other than that it's the brand-new Jennifer Lopez movie. Maybe you also know that it co-stars Jim Caviezel (periodically known as James; he apparently hasn't decided yet). 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 Message in a Bottle and When a Man Loves a Woman, is obviously trying to ape the stylings of M. Night Shyamalan in this one, 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, but 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, not exactly looking like a Pogue) 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, however, 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 had to have been a hard sell for the studio: A downbeat tale of romance between a violent, insomniac 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 all over the world that she's a pop star, this ought to be no sweat.)

Now to rejoin the story, or absence of same, in progress: Officer Sharon 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 spouse-abusing father (Victor Argo), something for which her family has never forgiven her. Mysterious Good Samaritan Catch (Caviezel, decked out like Nicolas Cage in City of Angels) is a dazed-looking chap who wanders the streets doing minor good deeds, like breaking into people's cars to turn their headlights off or alerting neighbors that they left their keys in the front door. 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 ("You call your dog Bob?" "That's his name"). As his moniker implies, however, there is indeed a...catch. The man won't give his full name, say what he does for a living or talk about his past. His apartment is virtually empty, save for drawers full of Power Ranger toys. And he has a strange fixation for leaving doors open. Still, he's enough of a wide-eyed spirit guide that being around him helps Sharon figure out her own familial issues. Although he clearly has issues of his own, he's in denial and won't fess up.

And then he's revealed to be an angel. No, wait -- he's actually a super-villain who caused the car crash we saw in the beginning! They call him Mr. Glass...psych! None of those things happens, 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, however, it must be said that Caviezel is fantastic in this role, and he plays it better than just about anyone else could have. It may simply be a feature-length expansion of his shy, homeless bum in Pay It Forward, but it's becoming clear that no one can pull timidity off quite the way he can. And when Sharon flakes on a date she and Catch had, Caviezel delivers the film's most memorable scene, as he goes to her house, pounds on the door repeatedly for several minutes and, once inside, delivers a stern lecture on the importance of keeping appointments. (L.A. audiences in particular are likely to stand up and cheer at this point, and should be encouraged to do so.)

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 avenue is never explored. As for Lopez, she's certainly not bad, but she'd be more convincing as an actress generally if, for once in her life, she were actually willing to look bad even for a split second. It's a particularly conspicuous problem in this more than in any of her other films: Cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski (The Decalogue, of all things) revels in stubble and rings under the eyes when it comes to most of the cast, but then he turns the camera on Lopez, and she seems to have utilized the makeup crew from her pop videos. Even allowing for movie-star gorgeousness, the diva look on a cop just doesn't cut it.

 
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