Angel Eyes

USA, 2001. Rated R. 114 minutes.

Cast: Jennifer Lopez, James Caviezel, Sonia Braga, Alfonso Arau, Jeremy Sisto, Terrence Dashon Howard, Victor Argo
Writers: Gerald Di Pego
Music: Marco Beltrami
Cinematographer: Jerry Greenberg
Producers: Bruce Berman, Mark Canton, Elie Samaha
Director: Luis Mandoki


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

M ovie trailers suck. If they don't give the whole story away, it's because they're staging an elaborate deception, portraying a movie differently from what it actually is. The preview trailers for Angel Eyes are an example of the latter. They would have you believe that Angel Eyes is a thriller, possibly supernatural. The film itself is neither supernatural nor thrilling. Instead, Angel Eyes is a syrupy romance--not as bad as a Harlequin novel, but definitely the type of story that, in written form, is sold primarily in drugstores and airports.

Director Luis Mandoki's name in the opening credits is the first sign of trouble. While his When a Man Loves a Woman was a thoughtful portrayal of addiction and its effects on a marriage, he is also the man who brought us the disastrous Message in a Bottle. He is joined by his Message partner in crime, writer Gerald Di Pego. Not coincidentally, Angel Eyes is nothing more than an attempt to redress their previous film's failure, because Angel Eyes is, in many respects, a Message in a Bottle rehash. Angel Eyes is admittedly a much better effort, but sitting through it is still something of a chore.

Mandoki learned from some of his mistakes: he foregoes the epic sweeping cameras-cum-swelling violins approach that characterized Message in a Bottle in favor of a more understated tone (so understated that at times the film is inert), and he has a hipper cast. Jim Caviezel (Frequency, The Thin Red Line) is a much more appealing Uncommunicative Love Interest With Tragic Past than Kevin Costner was--by which I mean you don't want to slap him every 30 seconds. However, Jennifer Lopez, as a tough cop, is less believable than Robin Wright Penn as a woman who would inexplicably fall in love with such a man.

The real romance in Angel Eyes is not between the two leads, but between Mandoki and his maudlin subject matter. By the second hour, he has abandoned all pretense of making a thriller and is just trying to jerk tears. Like in Message in a Bottle, Mandoki seems to think that if he wallows in the gut-wrenching "emotion" of a moment long enough, no matter how broadly written the moment is, or how implausible the whole premise, or how flat the direction, the audience can't help but be affected. Accordingly, Mandoki draws out conversations and encounters far more than necessary. You're more likely to yawn and shift in your seat than pull out a hankie, particularly because the story is fairly predictable.

Mandoki probably thinks he's trafficking in archetypal themes of love and loss, but he's really just shoveling hooey. In Mandoki's world, it seems Jennifer Lopezthat:

  1. A widower's inability to let go of his lost wife is a mark of his extraordinary sensitivity, and women will therefore find him irresistible, and want to do nothing more than play Florence Nightingale to him.
  2. Such a man is capable of falling deeply in love again before he has dealt with his loss in any meaningful way. (It's the falling in love part that will get him to deal with it, you see, which is where the gripping romantic drama comes in.)
  3. His loss gives the man the right to treat his new lover like a doormat, and yet she will continue loving him--even if she doesn't yet know about his loss and has NO IDEA why she's being treated like a doormat. Because, you see, she loves him.
  4. A woman, even a cop, will accept into her life a man with no background and no willingness to discuss his past AT ALL. Because, you see, she loves him.

Obviously Angel Eyes is designed to appeal to women, but frankly, Mandoki's women-love-a-fixer-upper perspective is at best insulting to women, and at worst, unhealthy and damaging. As for males, the only item of interest in Angel Eyes is the triumphant return of Lopez's star-making derriere. It had seemingly gone into hiding for the past couple years--rumors actually circled that Lopez had had reduction surgery. But her famously full behind is back (so to speak). Combine that with the fact that she's beautiful, a chart-topping singer, and showing more acting range in Angel Eyes than she did in, say, The Cell, and you've got a bona fide Star.

Oh, yeah, the plot. Well, you've got the basics already. A man calling himself "Catch" (Caviezel), who Mandoki wants us to see as "tragic" but is better described as "creepy," saves the life of Officer Sharon Pogue (Lopez), whom he has been semi-stalking. He lives in a bare apartment, has no job, and his background is an enigma. They fall in love anyway, and it's apparently a mystery even to Mandoki how two people can fall in love without one of them sharing a damn thing about himself, because Mandoki resorts to the cheap but reliable falling-in-love-via-musical-montage device. Saving Sharon's life probably buys Catch some slack, but come on! Instead of telling Catch to screw off, Sharon begins to investigate. Whatever will she find?

Review © May 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Warner Bros.

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