'Almost an Angel' escapes from pit of old movie hell

MOVIE REVIEW

December 19, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I honestly believe you could stop any bus in Baltimore City, pick 10 people at random, give them $10 million to make a movie and you'd get nine films that were better than and one film that was as good as Paul Hogan's "Almost an Angel."

I guarantee you: None would be worse.

Surely the year's lamest enterprise, it lacks only brazen immorality to classify it as the year's worst movie. It's not tough enough to be immoral, of course; every bone in its smug little body is a wet gobbit of macaroni.

Hogan appears to work on a fund of memory of the movies he saw as a child. "Crocodile Dundee," his fluke hit, was a crude tracing of a '30s screwball comedy that was all punch line and no setup. But people responded to its purported innocence, and as a consequence endowed Hogan with enough box office power to make a sequel. This just proves it: No good deed goes unpunished.

The old genre Hogan is dimly remembering this time is the heavenly fantasy, a subspecies of the supernatural, always involving lots of dry ice and blank celestial settings, lots of earnest goodness, and a last-reel miracle or two. The high end of the genre was "It's a Wonderful Life," or "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." It was bogus then, but at least it had a context of conviction and an enormous amount of movie craft to buttress it.

Hogan, who also wrote and executive produced, and his producer-director, John Cornell, have no such vocabulary of skills. They have no idea of the mechanisms that make a film like "It's a Wonderful Life" work. Hogan plays Terry Dean, a thief recently paroled from prison. He has no aspiration whatsoever to give up on crime, but, injured in an accident, he overhears in the semi-conscious state a few lines from Michael Landon's equally dim TV series "High way to Heaven"; then he has a dream in which Charlton Heston, wading through dry ice gas, tells him he has one chance to make good.

The story line then follows this uninteresting man as he bumbles through an almost deserted California suburb looking for miracles to perform. He ultimately attaches himself to some sort of recreation center for latchkey kids and agrees to cheer up the dying, crippled brother (Elias Koteas) -- no, he couldn't be crippled or he couldn't be dying, he had to be crippled and dying -- and the earnest, desperate sister (Linda Kozlowski) who run the place.

As a comic resource, poor Hogan is almost a complete zero. He has a pleasant, albeit unmemorable, face,

and his only strength is his eerie calm and his faint squint when he talks in that indecipherable Aussie brogue. On those few occasions when you can understand the lines, it's really hard to tell if he has no sparkle or the lines themselves (which he wrote) have no sparkle.

The meek are definitely behind schedule in their plot to inherit the Earth, but in the work of Paul Hogan, they have established a real beachhead.

'Almost an Angel'

Almost an Angel'

Starring Paul Hogan.

Directed by John Cornell.

Released by Paramount.

Rated PG.

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