CINEMA SIGNALS

. "Angel Eyes"

Jennifer Lopez has made herself into a phenom. Most of this was accomplished by her full fledged outing in all the areas her varied talents have led her, and she's had success in all of them: movie star, singer, business woman. Just the sort of thing that engenders considerable resentments and envy. It brings to mind another showwoman who shares a similarly fated resentment/envy reaction from the put-down gallery, namely, Madonna.

When it comes to movies, a Jennifer Lopez starring role makes it a Jennifer Lopez movie and there's virtually nothing in "Angel Eyes" that's of a comparable level of interest to dilute or diminish that way of regarding it. Which means, that she's very much under the microscope and there's bound to be some unfair criticism.

This was borne out by a conversation I overheard at the screening where I saw "Angel Eyes". One man who had not seen the movie said to one who had, "I hear she's terrible in it." Wisely, the man who had seen it said that he thought she was all right. Good for him for getting it right and not succumbing to preconceived notions that don't give a girl a chance.

In fact, as Officer Sharon Pogue, Lopez is more than all right. She's clearly an actress with star quality. You only have to look and be able to admit it. She's totally capable of conveying the emotions of her character and take you with her. She's intensely focused and "in the moment" at all times. There's nothing dilletantish about this gal.

Moreover, I particularly like her playing the kind of tough beauty that seems to be her essence. Actually, I haven't enjoyed her as much since "Money Train" (1995) in which she amazed with her acute take-no-prisoners attitude as Officer Grace Santiago. She made me take notice then and she repeats it here in a way she didn't, quite, in "The Cell".

In the very first sequence, Officer Pogue responds to to a hairy accident in which a family is all but wiped out. Ah, but one of them is hanging on, barely. We don't see the person but it was the one behind the wheel and he's hanging on to her finger as the camera remains on her face, on her eyes, as she tells him to "Stay with me, stay with me".

A fade out takes us to a few years later as Officer Pogue continues her career on the blue line. We learn that she is estranged from her father whom, six years ago, she threw in jail following a beating inflicted on his wife, Josephine Pogue (Sonia Braga). Good old wife-beating Carl Pogue (Victor Argo) never forgave his daughter for that one and it's been knawing at her ever since. She is firm in the belief that she did the right thing and wants her errant brother and stubborn father to admit it.

Besides that in her life, she has dates who ask the wrong questions and defeat her desire to keep things simple. Until Catch (James Caviezel) shows up. He's a soft speaking easy going sometime angel of mercy who haunts the streets in his long overcoat. The image is almost ethereal as he treads his trance-like way along his simple life. You could swear he's going to turn out to be the angel character from the title, but forget it.

Anyway, he turns out to have a fascination with Officer Pogue. Following her one day as she gets an emergency call that involves her chasing a pretty bad guy and him getting the drop on her, Catch steps in by kicking the crack-head's gun out of his hand as he's about to shoot Pogue above her protective vest. This, following her recovery from the bullets that did hit her in the chest, summons Pogue's interest in her angel-of-mercy, this funny, almost spiritual man who has entered her life, who seems anything but sex-crazed and offensive and, by god, the movie turns out to be a love story.

Jim Caviezel plays the wistful Catch with barely enough masculinity to have us believe in the attraction the tough but vulnerable Pogue could feel. At times it's unconvincing, stretching credibility. Sonia Braga, herself a great beauty at Lopez's age, is the battered mother.

There's some tenderly sensitive and tasteful writing in this piece by Gerald DiPego ("Message in a Bottle" 1999; "Phenomenon" 1996) until the last act where the soppy parts had to come together for a truly overwrought, anguished bit of gushiness. Balancing reality with the suggestions of supernatural connections was a challenge for director Luis Mandoki, who has attempted it before in "Message in a Bottle" and "When a Man Loves a Woman", one of the worst films to ever win an award.

The final immersion into drenching sentimentality didn't quite ruin the film, though, (it is a love story, after all) and it's recommended to fans of Lopez, anyone without a negative attitude toward her, people who liked the writer's previous credits, and those on a date. At this time, as it plays theatres in first run, it's probably the date movie of choice, though that's not reflected in the boxoffice numbers.

Estimated cost: $38,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $24,000,000.

Rated R for Romanti-sighs.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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