Luis Mandoki’s new film is a lot of things–but, curiously enough, not much of what it’s advertised as being; and the result is that it’s a muddled movie, a melange of disparate genres that never really jells. From the trailers and TV ads (and even the title), “Angel Eyes” promises to be some sort of moody supernatural tale, a “Sixth Sense”-ish kind of suspenser. But while the picture has a brooding, deliberate tone and dark, bluish-green color scheme, it’s really not a thriller at all. There’s an element of mystery to it, to be sure–who’s the bummed-out but friendly wanderer named Catch (Jim Caviezel) who saves the life of down-to-earth Chicago cop Sharon (Jennifer Lopez) and then becomes involved with her?–but the answer turns out to be mundane rather than other-worldly. (And it’s telegraphed in the picture’s first frames, so that it will hardly come as a shock except to the most unobservant filmgoer.) One might also detect a hint of the supernatural in the way the connection between the two characters appears to be fated somehow, but that’s so slight as to be negligible. There’s even a good dose of an action movie here, with quite a few police chases and periodic spurts of gunfire. But “Angel Eyes” is basically an oddball romance with a gritty aura, a tearjerker about recovering from psychological distress by finding the right soulmate, however peculiar the coupling: Sharon and Catch, it turns out, are both depressed people, injured by familial tragedies, who manage to overcome the obstacles those unhappy experiences pose and achieve happiness by linking up. At the end of the day, it has a lot more in common with movies screened on the Lifetime Network than with the films of M. Night Shyamalan, and it will probably remind you more of the last collaboration between Mandoki and writer Gerald DiPego, “Message in a Bottle,” than of something like “Unbreakable.”
Rest assured, however, that it’s not nearly as awful as that Kevin Costner-Robin Wright clunker. While it wouldn’t be fair to reveal the particulars of the traumas from which poor Sharon and Catch suffer, they’re presented more honestly than in the earlier film, and DiPego has invented some good dialogue in the banter between the leads (though elsewhere, when things get serious–as in a final monologue recorded for her estranged father by Sharon–things go terribly mawkish). Mandoki and cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, moreover, sustain a suitably gloomy atmosphere to reflect the mood of the (mostly miserable) characters. What makes the film work better than it probably has any right to, though, are the performances of Lopez and Caviezel. The former does a surprisingly good job of selling the notion that she’s a tough-as-nails cop with a mushier interior than she wants people to believe, and she proves that she can look just as convincing in a uniform or bullet-proof vest as in a black bra or tight-fitting white T-shirt (all of which she sports in the course of the narrative). Her co-star may be in danger of repeating, once too often, his hesitant, slightly dazed, good-naturedly awkward shtick from such past projects as “The Thin Red Line” and “Pay It Forward,” but he still manages to come across as ingratiating rather than irritating. This is basically two-character piece, so the rest of the cast doesn’t make much of an impression, but Terrence Howard gets a couple of good moments as Sharon’s partner. Sonia Braga and Victor Argo, however, are painfully stiff as her parents, and Shirley Knight, ensconced in a wheelchair, is generically maternal as a friend of Catch’s who’s much less mysterious than she’s meant to be.
“Angel Eyes” gets points off for utterly failing to persuade us that it was actually filmed in its purported Chicago setting; squad cars and jackets sporting the CPD logo can’t cut it by themselves, and even a clumsily-inserted establishing shot would have been preferable to the ridiculous periodic pans to isolated high-rises that are supposedly meant to resemble the Windy City skyline. The makers should also have refrained from plugging in the title tune over a sappy freeze-frame at the close; the effect is maudlin and almost comic. But despite its lapses, and the studio’s misleading portrayal of the sort of picture it is, “Angel Eyes” will probably wind up appealing to audiences–especially female ones–looking for some romance and sentiment in a movie season primarily devoted to explosions, gross-out extravaganzas and high-energy sequels; it could draw the same crowd that responded to the equally peculiar “Frequency” last year. And although it’s not really a good picture, it might have been a lot worse; just remember “Message in a Bottle.”