Although one cannot be sure what angels look like, Nicolas Cage,
dressed from head to toe in somber shades of black, makes a most
impressive one. And unlike John Travolta's jocular version, Cage's has
all the seriousness of an undertaker.
With a tremendous sense of the visual but without much
storytelling ability, director Brad Silberling attempts a remake of Wim
Wenders's German film WINGS OF DESIRE. Although Wenders's film is only
ten years, it is already being referred to as a classic. Why
Silberling, whose only other film was the mediocre CASPER, thought this
was the right time and he was the right person to redo so recent a
movie remains unclear.
Set in Los Angeles, the new film, called CITY OF ANGELS, stars
Cage as the angel Seth and Meg Ryan as a heart surgeon named Maggie
Rice. With his long black coat and constant five-o'clock shadow, Cage,
using small variations on his basic melancholic expression, rethinks
the whole concept of the angelic.
Angels, we learn, are not humans and never were. They can be seen
by mortals only if they want to be, which they rarely do. More
surprising, we find out that they hang out at the beach at sunrise and
sunset so they can hear the celestial choirs and at the library the
rest of the day. (Although you might expect to find them only among
the religious tomes, they frequent all the sections.)
One day in the operating room as he waits to take a dying man's
soul, Seth looks Maggie in the eye and becomes instantly smitten. He
dreams of doing the unthinkable, touching Maggie. The picture is at
its most magical during the eventual first touch and first kiss
sequences. Think way back to the excitement and rapture of the first
time that you ever held a lover's hand and of your first romantic kiss.
Rising above even these experiences, the scenes exist on a higher plane
that may make goose pimples crawl up and down your arms.
The film works best when it reduces the story to a tableau. The
tall, darkly dressed angles, dotting the beach for their morning music
by Gabriel Yared, provide the impact that the script by Dana Stevens
rarely delivers. (Wim Wenders is also listed on the writing credits
since he did the screenplay for the original movie.) The audience at
our screening was squirming in their seats since the movie seemed as
though it was going on for an eternity. As good as some of the visuals
are, they are highly repetitive and done excruciatingly slowly.
Maggie tells Seth that she doesn't believe in the hereafter.
"Some things are true whether you believe in them or not," he explains
with his usual gravity. The chemistry between them lacks the emotional
punch that the story requires. Although they both claim to be in love
with each other, only Seth is at all convincing.
Along the way they get to know the film's best minor character, a
heart patient of Maggie's named Nathan Messinger and played with gusto
by Dennis Franz. Nathan has a secret that drives the second half of
the film. Franz steals most of his scenes with an energy sadly lacking
in the rest of the movie.
The monotonic and glacially paced story eventually comes to its
completely predictable and highly manipulative ending. The CITY OF
ANGELS could easily be remade as a short film with music but no words.
Now that's a remake worth seeing.
CITY OF ANGELS runs 2:00. It is rated PG-13 for sexuality and
brief male nudity and would be fine for kids around ten and up.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes