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City of Angels

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: City of Angels

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan
Director: Brad Silberling
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: April 1998
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Andre Braugher, Dennis Franz, Colm Feore, Robin Bartlett, Joanna Merlin, Sarah Dampf

Review by Andrew Hicks
2 stars out of 4

I've said it before and I'll probably have to say it again -- I just don't buy the Hollywood theory that the biggest desire of angels is to be human. There's no bigger proponent of this idea than CITY OF ANGELS, which has a climactic, humanist speech from Nicolas Cage along the lines of, "I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, than eternity without it. One." Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "Yeah, Meg Ryan is cute, but come on, no one would give up an eternity in heaven for her."

Obviously, this Less is More philosophy carried over to the script, written by Dana Stevens. The idea seems to be that a moviegoer would rather see one rehashed plot, one oversentimentalized method of acting, than a fresh, unconventional movie. One, which is also the number of scenes in CITY OF ANGELS that really engaged me. Shame, because the early pieces of Brad Silberling's direction, which show lengthy aerial shots of black trenchcoated angels perched on Los Angeles architecture, suggested an artistic movie that would actually explore the life of the angel.

Instead, we get a love story. The human protagonist is a doctor (Ryan) who loses one of her patients at the beginning of the film. We already know, from one overly melodramatic child death scene, that angel Cage just hangs around, waiting for people to die. Then he walks them to The Other Side, after they've told him what they enjoyed most about life. After that, he compares responses with his closest angel friend, played by Andre Braugher, in his most subdued role ever.

So Cage catches a glimpse of Ryan at work, then stares her down as she cries over the dead patient. That's more or less what these movie angels do, just stare at humans, with a creepy demeanor that suggests some kind of stalker-pervert. That they all wear trenchcoats doesn't help their credibility. Anyway, Cage finds himself smitten with Meg and decides to let him get a look at her because, as Braugher says, "people can see you if you want them to."

They flirt for awhile, Ryan thinking he's a friend of the heart patient (Dennis Franz) she's going to operate on tomorrow. Then Cage disappears mysteriously, reappears, disappears, and so on, until we find out Meg is in love with him. It's when she starts coming up with questions like, "Why does he wear the same clothes all the time?" that things get tedious. At the same time, Cage starts wanting to forsake his angelic existence to be with Meg.

He gets the idea from Franz, whose character's name is Nathaniel Messinger. It's about the most obvious name for an ex- angel, although I'd hate to think my guardian angel looks like Denniz Franz. Hell, it's hard enough to swallow the idea of Cage as an angel. Rest assured, though, that since this is a movie, Cage will let his lusts dictate a fall from heaven. I just didn't think the filmmakers would do something so laughable as having Cage dive off a high building. Here's a hint, you guys: it's supposed to be a figurative fall, not a literal one. But the good news is Cage's black trenchcoat DOES fall with him.

I won't give away the ending, except to say it's the most cheesy, formulaic, pseudo-ironic ending possible in a movie like this, and one that would inspire Nicolas Cage to say, "I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, than eternity without it." Personally, I would rather have had a good script, genuine acting and direction that didn't rely on lingering shots and sappy orchestration. A movie like this sure isn't going to make a real angel fall from heaven, unless he falls over laughing.

Copyright 1998 Andrew Hicks

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