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