Angel-A (15)

You're no angel, darling
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The Independent Culture

A wretched man, at the end of his tether, is about to throw himself from a bridge, when someone else jumps in ahead of him. Instead of suicide, he performs a rescue, of a stranger who turns out to be his very own angel. So who, exactly, is saving whom?

If this sounds familiar, it's because Luc Besson has borrowed one of the most famous of cinema storylines, that of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. However, the conceit, and the fact that both films are shot in black and white, are all they have in common. Where Capra's film was a shrewd post-war reassertion of community values and self-sacrifice, and a no-nonsense attack on capitalism, Besson's is merely a familiar paean to statuesque beauty; where one was an unusual combination of bitterness and spirit, the other is a triumph of style over substance.

And instead of Jimmy Stewart's selfless George Bailey, we have André (Jamel Debbouze), a Parisian petty crook whose mounting debts to the underworld are about to get him killed. André is short, swarthy, scruffy; the angel he fishes out of the Seine, Angela (Rie Rasmussen), is tall, pencil-thin, peroxide blonde and, in a paint-on dress that doesn't progress below her hips, impossibly sexy.

Side by side they make an extraordinary spectacle, reminiscent of the pairing of the mountainous Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Leon. Such beauty-and-the-beast romanticism is a common element of Besson's cinema, one that wore thin long ago. Rasmussen is a dead ringer for Besson's former wife and screen muse, Milla Jovovich, which just underlines the dearth of imagination.

As the all-action Angela tries to teach the little man how to love himself, Besson's point - that every lowlife deserves a chance - is undermined by Angel-A's superficiality: its imagery is exquisitely empty; the dialogue, as always with Besson, stunningly banal. Within the cartoon limitations of their characters, the actors, particularly Rasmussen, are engaging enough. As for Besson, one is left with the feeling that this is a director reaching for the stars, while remaining decidedly earthbound.