Angel Eyes
Reviewed in May 2001
Director: Luis Mandoki. Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel, Terrence Howard, Sonia Braga, Shirley Knight, Jeremy Sisto, Victor Argo, Monet Mazur. Screenplay: Gerald Di Pego.

Photo © 2001 Warner Bros. Pictures
One can only guess that most of any attraction the cast and crew of Angel Eyes had to this particular script lay in its assistance on being mysteriously off-kilter, different. For a while, the movie seems like a transparent knock-off of Ghost or The Sixth Sense, but eventually we come to realize that it isn't. It threatens for a while to become one of those stories where a sort of worldly imp melts the heart of a tough broad, a sort of Legend of Bagger Vance, God help us, for the streets of Chicago; this doesn't happen either. The title of Angel Eyes, plus those spookily bleached-out posters of Jennifer Lopez's red-shaded pupils, conspire in the constant suggestion that the movie will eventually veer off into some alternate spiritual plane, but whether that detour will be sweet or sinister is also left open to question.

And left, and left, and left. Angel Eyes concluded—I dare not tell you how—and I was still guessing where everything was leading. If I have a begrudging admiration for the project, it's because it stays so resolute in its refusal to follow a pattern, though I dare to question if the staunch avoidance of clichés is a virtue when it translates into no story at all. Gerald Di Pego's screenplay has a sort of slash-and-burn mentality, with predictable results: having scorched every predictable avenue leading away from his premise, he finds himself stranded among flat, unfertile ground.

Jennifer Lopez stars as Chicago cop Sharon Pogue (is Jennifer playing Irish?), and in the movie's grabber first scene—unfortunately the only grabber up its sleeve—she rushes to the aid of an anonymous car-crash victim in whose point of view the camera has stuck us. That pronounced visual tactic, coupled with Lt. Sharon's futile desperation to keep the fading driver conscious, imply for a while that we're in the hands of cagey filmmakers who know more than they're telling, and who aren't unwilling to immerse their story in emotional or physical pain. Then we check the credits, and remember that director Luis Mandoki is best-known for translating pain into a bunch of "Your love pushes me away" speechifying in the Meg-Ryan-on-the-Sauce drama When a Man Loves a Woman, as well as ephemera like the Melanie Griffith remake of Born Yesterday. He's brought the right D.P. on-board—the late Piotr Sobocinski, who chronicled heartbreak and tentative reconnections so memorably in Kieslowski's Red—but we suspect Mandoki is going to retreat from the opening's darkest possibilities.

He does, and he doesn't. When Sharon meets Catch (Jim Caviezel), a greasy haired hobo who moons at her through diner windows and saves her from on-the-job assault, we assume right away that he was involved somehow in the fatal accident. Any further assumptions we might make are likely to be wrong, but to keep us in a gratuitous state of ignorance, the movie oscillates between fragmented glimpses of Catch at home and slivers of insight into Sharon's private life. Discovering that Sharon has an abusive father (Victor Argo), a brother (Jeremy Sisto, a long way from Clueless who has inherited Pop's problems, and a mother (Kiss of the Spider Woman's Sonia Braga) who won't acknowledge her family's troubles adds to what we know about her but strangely doesn't make her or the movie in general more vivid. Likewise, the stray impressions we receive of Caviezel's Catch—he seems to live either in an abandoned split-level with rooms full of children's toys or in a darkly furnished apartment as the caretaker (or son?) of Shirley Knight—don't count for much because we know there are more important mysteries the movie isn't resolving.

The movie treats all of these subplots as decidedly secondary, so much so that when it later asks us to reorganize our priorities and invest in these marginal dramas, we realize we've neglected them too long to be able to take the leap. The entire final sequence turns around a character of whom we've barely taken notice; meanwhile, other characters who wait on the sidelines for their presumed Big Moments in the later acts prove to lead nowhere. Terrence Howard, in particular, as Sharon's police partner Robby, has such a thankless role that the movie wouldn't feel any different without the five or six scenes he appears in.

All of this blurriness on the movie's borders leaves us with only Sharon, Catch, and the movie's almost monastic denial of any full-blooded storyline emerging between them. Mandoki coughs up a semi-erotic interlude on the shores of a lake, but Lopez and Caviezel are so undisguisedly uncomfortable that their mid-water caresses conjure unwanted memories of the Berkley-MacLachlan conniptions in Showgirls. These actors aren't playing people who are right or wrong for each other so much as people who need never have met: their histories prove to be not nearly so interconnected as we supposed, and the nature of their future role in each other's lives can hardly be guessed. Why these two protagonists have been paired at the center of a film is hard to fathom. Accordingly, even in its most somber moments, Angel Eyes sometimes feels like one of those gimmick films where two opposites are handcuffed together and forced to shuffle awkwardly alongside one another resolving their unrelated bits of personal business.

J.Lo herself seems to be shuffling a bit awkwardly of late. After breaking out in Selena, she found her way to some interesting directors and estimable ensembles, playing off Sean Penn and Nick Nolte in Oliver Stone's U-Turn, Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine in Bob Rafelson's Blood & Wine, and, of course, breaking out all over again in the trunk with George Clooney in Out of Sight. Maybe it was her success in the latter that convinced her playing policewomen is a strong hunch, but neither Angel Eyes nor The Wedding Planner, from January of this same year, seem like fully formed movies for an actress ostensibly on her way up. Actually, they recall that moment in Sandra Bullock's would-be ascendancy when she suddenly got stuck in oddball throwaways like The Net and Two if by Sea—forgettable genre entries that do nothing but take up shelf-space at Hollywood Video, where you can take 'em home for free when you rent a new release. Angel Eyes, too wispy either to love, to hate, or to remember, seems destined for the same paltry fate, and therefore raises the question of whether Lopez's film career will do the same. Grade: D+

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