Angels are generally packed up after Christmas along with the tinsel, but this year gets off on a divine note with two holy messengers flown in direct from Hollywood to spread peace, goodwill and schmaltz to all audiences. Featuring Whitney Houston in the title role, The Preacher's Wife is the story of a crumbling marriage redeemed by Denzel Washington's prosaically named Dudley, an angel with a chalky smile, Ready Brek handshake and supernatural lack of charisma. After the success of the New Age paean Phenomenon, John Travolta is back in February, winging it as the equally blokish angel, Michael - an ordinary guy who just happens to have large swan's wings poking out of his shoulder blades.

Both offer spirituality reduced to the level of feel-good magic, but if it's genuine small-town religious fervour you're after, you might be better off nipping along to The Crucible, released in the same month. Directed by The Madness of King George's Nicholas Hytner, this adaptation of Arthur Miller's play stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder in a story of 17th-century fanaticism and witchcraft. With painstaking period design, and a script by Miller himself, it's got to be one of the hottest tickets of the year and a strong contender for the 1997 Oscars.

Along with heavenly visitors, cinemas in 1997 will be crowded with space invaders. Next month sees Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! Inspired by old bubblegum cards and lovingly shot in the same lurid colours, the film is a crazy spoof of last year's Independence Day. George Lucas's retouched Star Wars hits the big screens in the same month, along with Space Jam, a kind of Roger Rabbit meets the aliens and some Nike-owned celebrity baseball players. The film did brisk business in the States, but unfamiliar sports heroes may limit its success this side of the Atlantic.

Much more likely to succeed is MTV's feature-length Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, with our hormonal sociopaths getting off the couch and giving their homeland the Bill Bryson treatment. Almost as funny, and out a lot sooner is Extreme Measures, the first film from Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley's Simian films. Hurley named the company after Hugh's cheeky chimp-like features and in this ER medical thriller, Grant's doctor has about the same gravitas as a monkey in a mask.

If Hugh can get work on the operating table then anything's possible and looking further ahead this year, you'll be able to see Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas as big-game hunters on safari in 1896, Clint Eastwood as a cat burglar called Luther in Absolute Power and Jim Carrey as a lawyer in Liar Liar. Carrey in a straight role, without effects? It must be a miracle. Now what was that casting agent called again, was it Michael or Dudley?

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