- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

“Angel-A,” Luc Besson’s latest French feature, starts out as a rather amusing criminal comedy.

The appealing (in both senses of the word) face of Andre (Jamel Debbouze) fills the screen as he muses on his sudden popularity.

“Maybe it’s down to me being such a cute, fun-loving kinda guy,” he suggests.

Maybe not. None of the many people looking for Andre seem interested in shooting the breeze over a pint. The members of one crowd throw some well-timed punches, while those of another hang Andre off a very high point of the Eiffel Tower.

“Two things were crystal clear,” Andre finally admits. “I really had to change my life. And I definitely hated Paris.”

As soon as the title character makes her appearance, though, “Angel-A” quickly turns earnest.

Andre, something of a scam artist who can’t pay his debts, decides to end his money woes by jumping off one of Paris’ strikingly beautiful bridges. But when a statuesque blonde with the same idea beats him to it, he jumps in to rescue her, saving both their lives.

In gratitude, Angela (Danish stunner Rie Rasmussen, “Femme Fatale”) offers to help solve Andre’s troubles. (Her inimitable way of doing so mostly involves spending time alone with other men.) But it’s not angry creditors who are Andre’s biggest problem, she decides. It’s his own lack of self-love and self-confidence.

Luc Besson’s first live-action feature since 1999’s “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” is a sometimes funny, sometimes film noir-dark fable that glides perilously close to melodrama at times. Ultimately, though, it’s a rehash of Wim Wender’s 1987 “Wings of Desire,” already remade in Hollywood as “City of Angels.”

It’s too bad “Angel-A” leaves viewers already familiar with those movies unsatisfied, because this black and white film is one of the most beautifully shot of the year. Paris and its many bridges have rarely looked so beautiful. Cinematographer (and frequent Besson collaborator) Thierry Arbogast has captured a quiet, nearly empty city few of us get to see.

It’s no surprise that by the end of the film, when Angela has worked her magic, Andre finally realizes that the city is beautiful.

The vistas and the performances make “Angel-A” worth watching, even if the story covers well-trodden ground. Miss Rasmussen looks a little like Mr. Besson’s ex-wife, actress Milla Jovovich, and has the same attractive combination of femininity and toughness.

Mr. Debbouze is familiar to foreign film devotees on these shores, with his noted appearances in “Amelie” and last year’s Oscar nominee, “Days of Glory.” Here he proves he can carry a film almost on his own; his lovable rogue is incredibly appealing. His sense of detail is effortless, too: When Angela talks about how attractive he is on the inside, he closes his jacket, as if trying to hide his true self.

Mr. Besson’s modern-day fairy tale, though, is all about recognizing — and accepting — that self.

**1/2

TITLE: “Angel-A”

RATING: R (language and some sexual content)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Luc Besson (in French with English subtitles)

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.angel-amovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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