Review: 'Angel-A' fizzles

“Angel-A” marks the live-action directorial return, following an eight-year absence, of Luc Besson, and it’s an atypically feathery fairy tale, literally and otherwise, from the voltage maven responsible for “La Femme Nikita,” “The Professional” and the scripts for the “Transporter” films. It’s also a dud. Charm as well as soul is missing from Besson’s attempt to insert magic and truth into the spaces where violence and spectacle once prevailed.

Though he’s not a particularly profound or, for that matter, Gallic filmmaker — “the end of French cinema as we know it” is how critic Pauline Kaeldescribed “Nikita” — Besson, despite his sorry effort to turn Joan of Arc into an action figure, has served up sizzle over the years. Unfortunately, even surface spark is lacking in this Paris-set rendition of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with bits of “Wings of Desire” folded in.

Besson’s kickass heroine is heaven-sent Angela (Rie Rasmussen), a tall dynamo in a tiny dress that conceals plumed wings. Angela hooks up with suicidal petty crook Andre (Jamel Debbouze) after he rescues her from a jump into the Seine that thwarted his own plan to leap.

Angela’s mission is to help Andre get his act together, and, employing unorthodox means, she pays off his debts to a deadly gangster. She also boosts Andre’s self-esteem, via some self-help coaching.

Love happens, of course, and proves problematic given Angela’s other-worldly status.

Surely, there is possibility here for some winning screwball comedy, or astute commentary about modern-times hollowness, or perhaps “10”-style male fantasy. But, save for occasional cuteness such as the sight of chic, statuesque Angela towering over short, scruffy Andre, the movie is a Franco-Hollywood pastry without flavor or puff.

Particularly dooming is the protagonists’ dearth of magnetism. Debbouze (seen recently in “Days of Glory”) has an appealing soulful-doleful quality, but Besson gives him nowhere compelling to take it. The story’s a string of repetitive, unstirring moneymaking feats and love-thyself sessions performed by Angela, who, spouting psycho-drivel, matches TV shrinks in shallowness.

As for bright spots, credit Thierry Abrogast’s exquisite black-and-white cinematography of a seemingly deserted Paris with raising the movie’s watchability level considerably.

Angel-A **

Starring Jamel Debbouze, Rie Rasmussen

Written and directed by Luc Besson

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


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