Lopez's star rises in `Angel Eyes'

Review: A moving love story overcomes a distracting subplot.

May 18, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

There's a moving, complicated love story at the center of "Angel Eyes." It's too bad a peripheral plot line draws attention away from it.

Not content to merely tell the tale of two damaged souls clumsily trying to repair each other's lives, director Luis Mandoki ("White Palace" and "Message In a Bottle") and screenwriter Gerald DiPego tack on a subplot about domestic violence that not only seems grafted on, but never seems sure of what it's trying to say.

What the movie does unequivocally, however, is showcase Jennifer Lopez as a film talent of the first order. As a Chicago cop whose emotions are tied in knots, Lopez is never less than believable. Although she's never unattractive - she's still Jennifer Lopez, after all - her looks never get in the way. She wears her police uniform with authority, displaying a confidence that seems to grow stronger with every movie.

Lopez plays Sharon Pogue, and the film opens at a horrific traffic accident, where she tries to keep one of the survivors calm until help arrives. We never see inside the car, but through the victim's face, we focus on Officer Pogue and hear her voice, urging the driver to hold on.

The scene ends, and the film advances a year. Pogue is still on the force, struggling to find a life outside of it (she treats every date like an interrogation, which makes second dates pretty rare) and looking for a good reason to let down her guard long enough to let someone in.

She's also picked up a silent admirer, a gaunt, unshaven, black-cloaked figure who walks the streets doing good deeds for people who don't appreciate them and running errands for a wheelchair-bound woman he apparently has known for some time. Lately, he's gotten in the habit of gazing at Pogue from a safe distance, mesmerized by something about her.

Events quickly unfold in a way that allows our mystery man to play the hero by saving Pogue's life, and so the two are introduced. His name, he says, is Catch, "just Catch," and he insists his past is a blank slate. Pogue's police instincts tell her to keep away from this guy, who never gives a straight answer to a question. But he can be hard to resist; his gentleness, smile and sincere desire to please are combined with a willingness to call her bluff and not accept her woe-is-me attitude.

And so the two begin to forge a relationship. It isn't easy; both appear to have been hurt previously, and neither entirely trusts the other. But they stick with it, and good things happen.

Eventually, Pogue starts to unravel Catch's past. And while much of the audience is going to be way ahead of her in figuring out who he is, the truth finally helps her understand him better - and leads her to make a potentially tragic, if well-intentioned, mistake.

Lopez and Jim Caviezel, whom she hand-picked to portray Catch, play convincingly off one another, and DiPego's dialogue has a disarming quality that goes a long way toward explaining how this seemingly mismatched pair could fall for one another. (Asked to describe his feelings for her, Catch says simply, "Surprising"). And while some of the film's "surprises" aren't that at all, Mandoki keeps his audience guessing, mainly about whether there's going to be a supernatural element to the story's resolution.

Mandoki and DiPego, who also collaborated on "Message In a Bottle," are on less firm footing with the domestic violence subplot. Years earlier, Pogue turned her father in to the police after he beat her mother - an action that hardened her emotionally and, doubtless, helped convince her to become a cop. He hasn't beaten his wife since being released from prison, but he also hasn't forgiven his daughter. Worse, his son (Jeremy Sisto) has started to exhibit similar abusive tendencies.

"Angel Eyes" paints a wrenching picture of the evils of abuse - how many abused people suffer quietly, how those who go public about the abuse can be scorned by their families for revealing their dirty secrets, how abusive parents tend to have abusive offspring - but then gives the subject short shrift. It would have been better, I suspect, if that particular plot strand had been developed as another screenplay.

But then again, when was the last time a Hollywood film was criticized for overextending itself? Among cinematic sins, that's a pretty venial one.

`Angel Eyes'

Starring Jennifer Lopez and Jim Caviezel

Directed by Luis Mandoki

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R (Language, adult material, sex)

Running time 104 minutes

Sun score ***

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