On wings of angels

September 02, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

For sheer bull-goose looniness, no one can top Christopher Walken, and in "The Prophecy," Walken is at his alien-from-outer-space craziest.

The movie, a theological horror thriller, never makes much sense as a narrative, but it offers a surprisingly good cast a chance to cut the rug, with the amazing Walken leading the pack. He's Gabriel, the bad Angel of Death, come to earth in search of our planet's worst soul, which is evidently (I could be wrong) the key ingredient in his war against the good angels.

To explain further, it seems a rump group of bad angels -- jealous over God's preference for humans -- have been waging a war in heaven for thousands of years. But it's a terrible stalemate, something like the Western Front in World War I. This last little thing -- it's the soul of a Korean War veteran who ate the heart of the enemies he had slain -- will push him over the top.

Why in a world that has produced Bosnias and Rwandas, this poor colonel who went a little combat nuts is so bad I find difficult to understand. In fact, I found everything about the film difficult to understand. It unspools largely from the point of view of a police detective named Tom Dagget (Elias Koteas), a failed seminary student who no longer believes, as he tries to make sense of a bunch of strange murders of eyeless victims.

Initially the movie is irksomely incoherent, with Mr. Koteas acting like the Robert De Niro he so resembles, and little Eric Stoltz playing a soul-sick good angel Simon; nothing connecting, nothing following, until Walken strides on scene and -- can it be a miracle? -- lifts the film up several levels.

With henna-black hair and a chalky-white face and those haunted, depthless blue eyes, he seems less an angel than a hipster back from the jazz clubs on the other side of the River Styx. Caustic, ironic, witty, he seems to be inventing lines as he goes along, and he plays Gabriel for all he's worth, exulting in his evil, sublimely amused by the petty ambitions of the "talking monkeys," as he calls the human race. When he chooses a dying woman to assist him with a task, he wakes her from her coma with a cheery "Hi!" When one of his minions is killed by the detective, he turns irritable. "Do you know how hard it is to get one of those?"

The writer-director Gregory Widener has obviously spent a lot of time with his nose buried in old Gustave Dore prints, for the movie frequently hits that weird Dore note: The heroic composition that suggest Armageddon is just around the corner. At one point, he gives us a glimpse of a battlefield after the angels have been hacking away at each other and it's a terrible image, something out of the warped imagination of Vlad the Impaler -- a field festooned to the horizon with crucified men with wings. Then he has a night sky heavy with the sound, and then the images, of beating wings, as an army of angels prepares to do battle.

When things get desperately complex, someone comes to the rescue. God? Sorry, that august gentleman was on the links or possibly going over his stock portfolio. No, it's Lucifer, in the form of Viggo Mortensen, and this is another vivid performance. Lucifer is interested in stopping Gabriel not out of a sense of good, but out of a sense of bad. If Gabriel succeeds there will be two hells, and as the sole proprietor and original franchisee of the real one, he'll watch his property values decline. See, all life is really about real estate.

Anyway, Mortensen has about three scenes and he really lights up the night with his power, though his is of a different sort than Walken's. Where Walken dominates with the oddness of his line readings and the low-key power of his presence, Mortensen is all charisma. The camera loves him.

The movie, however incoherent, is engrossing. It answers the age-old question: How many angels could fit in a movie. And the answer is, just enough.

'The Prophecy'

Starring Christopher Walken and Elias Koteas

Directed by Gregory Widener

Released by Dimension

Rated R (violence, profanity)

** 1/2

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