'Angel-A'

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Angel-A
Directed by Luc Besson
Sony Pictures Classics, opens May 25

What if you took It's a Wonderful Life and replaced George Bailey with a scruffy Parisian con man and swapped Henry Travers's doddering guardian angel for the half-naked chick with the $10 million pasties from Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale? You'd wind up in the humid imagination of writer-director Luc Besson. In this amiably inconsequential fairy tale, one-armed Morocco-born comic Jamel Debbouze draws on his scrappy charm as a quick-talking Brooklyn-based loser who's about to jump into the Seine to avoid his gambling debts when suddenly a literal suicide blonde (Rie Rasmussen) materializes on the same bridge. When the leggy sprite and her companion aren't wandering a desolate City of Lights—shot in silvery black-and-white—the portentously named Angela throws roundhouse kicks in a bid to restore her man's latent decency. Is she the director's muse? Is expat Debbouze's love-hate relationship with Paris symbolic of Besson's own tenuous position in Gaulywood, where he functions as a kind of Gallic Jerry Bruckheimer? There's little beyond the surface-deep pleasures of this talky distaff riff on Wings of Desire, although the raffish Debbouze and the gawky Rasmussen provide an ungainly sweetness. But the loony passion and profligate imagination of Besson's sci-fi whatsit The Fifth Element are sorely missed.

 
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