The marketing folks did well to guarantee the lack of opening-day reviews for “The Crow: City of Angels.” Unfortunately for Miramax, however, there will be no way to control the bad news once ticketbuyers get a look at this stunningly awful sequel. The original 1994 hit was popular enough (especially on video) to portend good-to-excellent opening-weekend business for the followup. After that, however, pic should plummet to Earth very quickly.
European hunk Vincent Perez replaces the late Brandon Lee in the title role as an avenger who returns from the dead to punish those responsible for his murder. Strictly speaking, Perez is playing a different person: Ashe, a motorcycle mechanic who was viciously gunned down, along with his young son, after accidentally witnessing a murder. But, much like Lee’s Eric Draven, who came back to find the bad guys who killed him and his wife, Ashe is guided and protected by the magical power of a mysterious black crow.
In other words, different hero, same m.o. And, for good measure, same makeup and costume. Like Lee, Perez spends most of his time on camera in black-leather garb and clown-white makeup. Try to imagine a punk-rock Pierrot, and you’ll get the picture.
“The Crow” was set in a highly stylized, hellaciously seedy version of Detroit. The setting for “City of Angels” is, appropriately enough, Los Angeles. Thanks to cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier and production designer Alex McDowell, the place looks like a post-apocalyptic nightmare, percolating with the same doom-sodden atmosphere that permeated the previous “Crow” adventure. But while the first “Crow” was infused with all the dark, death-obsessed energy of a heavy-metal concert, “City of Angels” is a lumbering and repetitive bore.
Worse, a great deal of the movie doesn’t make any sense, even on the level of stylized fantasy. Canadian actress Mia Kirshner co-stars as Sarah, a tattoo artist no kidding! who, according to the movie’s production notes, is supposed to be a grown-up version of the little girl played by Rochelle Davis in “The Crow.” But if director Tim Pope ever filmed a scene in which someone explained this connection, he left it on the cutting-room floor.
There is another little girl on view in “City of Angels,” a streetwise waif named Grace. (The religious symbolism in this movie is, to put it charitably, less than subtle.) Played by newcomer Beverly Mitchell, the child appears to have some sort of psychic connection with Ashe. But after a cryptic dialogue between the two characters, Grace inexplicably disappears, and is never seen or even talked about again.
Overall, “City of Angels” has the look and feel of a movie that, at some point, was a good deal longer. Not necessarily better, but longer. Maybe by the time the pic resurfaces on video, Miramax will have some sort of director’s cut ready for the few who’ll really care.
Pope, a musicvideo veteran making his feature helming debut, places great emphasis on S&M imagery, inner-city decay and “Day of the Dead” carnival atmosphere. His technique recalls Pauline Kael’s infamous comment about Paul Schrader’s “Cat People” “Each shot looks like an album cover for records you don’t ever want to hear.”
Perez strikes all the right poses, but he lacks the self-assured grace and self-deprecating humor that Lee brought to “The Crow.” To be sure, Perez is in a no-win situation here: There’s no way he can compete with the audience’s memory of an actor who died in an on-the-set accident while playing the same role, and who has the near-mythic stature of a promise forever unfulfilled. Still, Perez might have done better if he’d had the opportunity to develop a give-and-take with a more animated co-star. Lee had Ernie Hudson to play with. Perez only has Kirshner, who plays most of her scenes with all the emotion of someone who has been heavily sedated.
As the chief bad guy, Judah, a suavely sadistic drug lord, Richard Brooks glides through his scenes with more imposing authority than intimidating menace. Chief among his lackeys: the magnificently ravaged punk-rocker Iggy Pop, who gets the longest death scene in the movie. Pop also is featured on the “City of Angels” soundtrack, along with a dozen or so other rock acts. The soundtrack CD, it should be noted, already is a big hit. The movie itself isn’t likely to enjoy the same success.