If you've seen Patrice Leconte's Girl on a Bridge, or pretty much any movie with angels (Wings of Desire, It's a Wonderful Life, The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show), then you've seen a less-annoying version of former wunderkind Luc Besson's latest movie, Angel-A.
Besson's great contribution to cinema was to add an American sensibility (dumbness) to French filmmaking with movies like La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element and The Professional. Perhaps in an attempt to atone for these sins, he's now come out with something more French: a small romance, shot in black and white, utilizing the beauty of Paris.
Unfortunately, he can't get away from his penchant for les choses stupides, so what he's created is basically a Disney movie about an angel who has sex for money. It's like The Little Princess, only with more whoring.
Jamel Debbouze plays André, a down-on-his-luck hustler who owes money to the sort of people who have "hate" and "luv" tattooed on their remaining fingers. He's also a liar; you know this, because he gives an initial monologue wherein he claims to be a liar. Throughout the rest of the film, he doesn't actually do much lying, but it's a major plot point, so it's best that he just announce it rather than leave the audience guessing by spelling it out in action.
Deciding that he'd be better off floating in the Seine than getting Abu Ghraib'ed by his creditors, he prepares to throw himself off a bridge. But! At just that moment! He sees a beautiful woman (Rie Rasmussen) who is also preparing to throw herself off the very same bridge. Saving her, he finds that she's not only named Angela; she's also wearing panties that were designed by God.
Seriously. God made her panties.
Anyway, Angela turns out to be something of a guardian angel, helping André to get out of trouble. Like all guardian angels, she does this by having sex with a few hundred losers, charging them 1,000 euros a pop and giving the money to André.
This really hammers home what a good guy André is, because, even though he takes the money, he feels kind of bad about it. Clearly, he is a moral paragon, because when the average person whores you out, they not only don't feel bad about it; they claim to represent an autonomous branch of government.
Anyway, the whole film comes across like the sexual fantasy of a socially awkward 12-year-old boy. Not only does Angela completely take care of André; she demands that she be treated as his slave, and she spends a lot of time showing him her (divine) panties.
But André, in spite of being the kind of guy who does business with criminals and runs out on his debts, is also supposed to be an inherently good person, worthy of redemption.
This leads to Angel-A's most annoying trope: Every few minutes, André and Angela have a screaming fight that's supposed to be revelatory of their characters, but is almost completely unmotivated. Angela kept you from getting killed? That's a screaming match. Angela gave you 40,000 euros? That's a screaming match. Angela agreed with what you just said? That's a screaming match.
The way Angela kept magically helping André, and André kept resenting it, but accepting the help anyway, made Angel-A seem like a pretentious, French version of the Darren II seasons of Bewitched.
Of course, in the end, André and Angela fall in what the French call "love," and magical feelings of "I wish this movie were over" cover the audience in sticky goodness.
Besson has been lauded for the beauty of his cinematography, but it seemed painfully standard to me. It's hard to take a bad shot of Paris, and Besson does OK there, but there's certainly nothing inventive or interesting about the rigid way he frames his widescreen shots of the city.
He also can't quite give up his love for cheesy special effects, and these add nothing to the movie except the realization that Besson is better at big-budget, low-IQ shoot-'em-ups than he is at arty love stories.
While I've been impressed by the recent wave of French cinema, which has moved back toward strongly personal stories and away from the gratuitous violence and hard-core sex that marked the '90s, I can't say that Besson has the Frenchness to pull this off.