Angel Eyes

A moving target if there ever was one, "Angel Eyes" darts back and forth from being a psychological thriller to a vaguely metaphysical drama to a fate-driven romance. Such a schema may, in the right hands, make for a powerful, all-seeing movie; here, it all becomes a blur.

With:
Sharon Pogue - Jennifer Lopez Catch - Jim Caviezel Josephine Pogue - Sonia Braga Robby - Terrence Howard Larry - Jeremy Sisto Carl Pogue - Victor Argo Kathy Pogue - Monet Mazur Elanora - Shirley Knight Larry Jr. - Daniel Magder

A moving target if there ever was one, “Angel Eyes” darts back and forth from being a psychological thriller to a vaguely metaphysical drama to a fate-driven romance. Such a schema may, in the right hands, make for a powerful, all-seeing movie; here, it all becomes a blur. From the title to the ethereal ads prominently displaying Jennifer Lopez as the marquee-topping star she has become, viewers are misled to expect a romancer involving otherworldly forces. In fact, pic is rooted in the realities of Chicago street life and shattered lives, haplessly mixing in half-baked notions of fate and destiny. Playing much too softly for high-impact early summer numbers even as it faces off against the giant ogre named “Shrek,” pic is guaranteed J.Lo’s loyal B.O. posse but will test whether the female aud that supported her “Wedding Planner” might show up again.

Scribe Gerald DiPego and helmer Luis Mandoki are incurable romantics, following their ultra-weepie “Message in a Bottle” with this new variation on lonely hearts. While “Message” stayed obsessively true to its romantic code, “Angel Eyes” appears to want to have it as many ways as possible. While mixing and matching genres is always welcome, this project stands as a firm reminder that such blending is fraught with risks.

A sense of forced dramatics hangs over the prologue, as ace Polish lenser Piotr Sobocinski’s Steadicam roams about a disastrous multicar collision like a seasick drunk — as if the camera’s sheer wobbliness will get us in the mood for feeling akimbo. Tough Chi cop Sharon Pogue (Lopez) prods a breathing crash victim to “stay with me,” but a transition to a year later leaves the traffic tragedy in limbo.

Catch (Jim Caviezel) wanders the streets doing unmotivated good deeds such as bringing weekly groceries to kindly Elanora (Shirley Knight), but also appears to be in constant internal pain. Sharon — as Mandoki films it — straps on her bulletproof vest like a fashion item, goes out and beats up bad guys.

When Catch eyes Sharon in a cafe, he flashes back on an accident. So early in the story does “Angel Eyes” give away the key link between Catch and Sharon, that watching it amounts to a long wait for the characters to get up to speed. Still, the combo of Caviezel’s spooky, wordless approach and Marco Beltrami’s ethereal if unimaginative scoring hints at a more supernatural explanation for Catch’s existence — especially when, out of the blue (and with apparently superhuman quickness), Catch is able to save Sharon’s life during a breathless chase of a thug.

In Sharon’s background is a family torn apart: Her father (Victor Argo) hasn’t spoken to her since she had him arrested for beating her mother (Sonia Braga), while — in one of pic’s most effective scenes — brother Larry (Jeremy Sisto) seems to have picked up his father’s worst, brutal habits. Sharon is thus not too eager to attend her folks’ upcoming renewing of their wedding vows. DiPego’s dialogue is at its best when conveying this information indirectly, the way people actually talk, and Lopez reaches her strongest emotive moments when expressing Sharon’s resentment for having become the black sheep for doing what she feels was the right thing.

After initial awkwardness, Sharon and Catch get along so great that they go for summery, sexy frolics by the lakeside. Even as Catch remains stubbornly mum about himself, Sharon confesses to him about feeling guilty that she never stood up to her dad during his wife-beating sessions.

During a date with Sharon, Catch jumps onto the stage of the Jazz Spot to play a haunting trumpet take on the standard “Nature Boy” (also a dominant number, it so happens, in Cannes opener “Moulin Rouge”).

An encounter outside the club leads to Sharon fitting the final pieces of the Catch puzzle together. This belated move, as predictable as it is mechanical, only brings all of the movie’s problems to the surface, and even a final confrontation between Sharon and her father doesn’t add psychological focus to a drama split in several directions. If the finish of “Message in a Bottle” was the Hallmark-card image for sad moods, this one is the version designed to put a smile on your face.

Lopez has shown that she rises or falls to the occasion, depending on the quality of the script. Apropos this material, she’s in middling mode, neither terrifically affecting nor so bland that you fail to notice her every move. She tends to work harder in her many scenes opposite Caviezel, who is the pic’s still, quiet presence from start to finish. Playing a variation of his perf in “The Thin Red Line,” Caviezel’s penetrating eyes appear to be either seeing God or Death or both: If ever there were the actor to play the main role in the movie about the Second Coming, here he is.

Knight brings a brief, gentle effect on the drama, while Sisto’s dark-edged character deserves more screen time than he receives.

All tech departments are at the top of their game, including one of the more convincing attempts (among many in recent movie history) to turn Toronto into the Windy City.

Angel Eyes

Production: A Warner Bros. release of a Morgan Creek Prods. and Franchise Pictures presentation of a Franchise Pictures and Canton Co. production. Produced by Mark Canton, Elie Samaha. Executive producers, Andrew Stevens, Neil Canton, Don Carmody. Co-producer, Dawn Miller. Directed by Luis Mandoki. Screenplay, Gerald DiPego.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Piotr Sobocinski; editor, Jerry Greenberg; music, Marco Beltrami; music supervisors, Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; art director, Dennis Davenport; set decorator, Enrico Campana; costume designer, Marie-Sylvie Deveau; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Owen Langevin; sound designer, Tim Walston; supervising sound editors, Bruce Stambler, Richard E. Yawn; special effects coordinator, Danny White; assistant director, Jeff (JJ) Authors; second unit camera, Spiro Razatos; casting, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, May 8, 2001. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 104 MIN.

With: Sharon Pogue - Jennifer Lopez Catch - Jim Caviezel Josephine Pogue - Sonia Braga Robby - Terrence Howard Larry - Jeremy Sisto Carl Pogue - Victor Argo Kathy Pogue - Monet Mazur Elanora - Shirley Knight Larry Jr. - Daniel Magder

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