Angel Eyes

A mysterious man (Jim Caviezel) appears, like a guardian angel, and saves police officer Sharon Pogue (Jennifer Lopez), from a deadly ambush. Is it coincidence or fate? The two shall learn the truth about themselves and each other as they fall in love in "Angel Eyes."

Laura's Review: C+

Chicago PD officer Sharon Pogue (Jennifer Lopez, "The Wedding Planner") fights to keep an accident victim conscious with earnest care emanating from her every pore in one scene, then throws a hulking hood against a squad car in the next. JLo means business as an all purpose supercop, but when she finds herself at the mercy of a gun-wielding thug, it's the bravery of a passing stranger - or is he? - that saves her life in "Angel Eyes."

Director Luis Mandoki and screenwriter Gerald DiPego tone down the saccharine syrup they applied liberally to their last effort, "Message in the Bottle," but can't resist overdoing the melodrama in the home stretch of their new one.

"Angel Eyes" is being marketed as some kind of supernatural outing, but it's really a love story about two troubled people who find each other. Sharon is agonizing over a family that has a history of abuse, from her father's (Victor Argo, "Coyote Ugly") former treatment of her mother (Sonia Braga, "Kiss of the Spider Woman") to her brother's current spousal abuse. Her concerned partner Robby (Terrence Howard, "The Best Man"), whom she hasn't confided in, even suggests she may be battling her own violent impulses after witnessing her rough treatment of apprehended suspects. Her mother and sister-in-law's pleas for her to attend a ceremony celebrating the renewal of her parents' wedding vows are bringing the familial conflict to a head.

Sharon finds herself intrigued by the quiet young man (Jim Caviezel, "Pay It Forward") who tackled her assailant. Giving his name only as Catch, the man with the intense blue eyes proves to have an even higher wall around him that she does. As the couple can't seem to resist the urge to be together, Sharon begins to delve into Catch's past, finally discovering a shattering confluence.

It's here that "Angel Eyes" plunges earthward. Mandoki and editor Jerry Greenberg crosscut Catch's coming to terms with his tragedy as Sharon attends her parent's party and attempts to make peace with her father. The ludicrousness of such emotional trauma hitting a couple at the exact same time is cause for eye-rolling - surely not the intended audience response. (I also have a pet peeve with filmmakers who prominently feature a pet - in this case Catch's dog Bob - only to inexplicably forget the animal's existence.)

A second problem with "Angel Eyes" is the imbalance of the leads' performances. Jennifer Lopez has enough street cred to be entirely believable as a Chicago cop and the femininity to appear soft and vulnerable. Even while Mandoki over manipulates the climax of his film, Lopez pulls off a highly emotional moment, recalling a good childhood scene with her dad for a camcorder when her real father can't bring himself to bridge the gap that's grown between them.

Caviezel, however, needs to stop playing Christlike characters. He became known with his sacrificial Private Witt in "The Thin Red Line" and turned the heroin addict of "Pay It Forward" into a fallen saint. Maybe Mandoki directed him to play Catch in an otherworldly manner to keep audiences guessing, but the routine is wearing thin for this actor, who coasts here with his penetrating eyes and cautiously dazzling smile. Making a stronger impression is NAACP Image Award winner Terrence Howard as Sharon's hopeful partner. Oscar nominated actress Shirley Knight ("As Good as it Gets") appears in a small role as a wheelchair bound woman whom Catch shops for.

The film alternates between a skewed, dreamy look and lushly colored reality provided by Academy Award nominated cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski ("Red") (who passed away earlier this year while working on Mandoki's next feature). The musical focal point comes when Catch surprises Sharon by picking up a trumpet to perform a blues piece in a nightclub.

Robin's Review: C+

"Angel Eyes" is, first and foremost, a date flick. It has the trappings of an action-drama, initially, with Lopez saving a car crash victim, then, later, getting in a shootout with a fleeing felon. But, once the setup is made - troubled cop, Sharon, meets mysterious drifter, Catch (Caviezel) - the cop drama falls away and real story, the love story about two troubled people adrift and alone who find each other, kicks in.

When Catch (Caviezel) comes on the scene, we find a tortured and confused man who is, at his core, a good Samaritan. When he first sees Sharon, he recognizes her, but it's left vague as to how and when. (But, if you paid attention to the action under the credits at the beginning, you'll guess who Catch is.) All we really know about the stranger is that he is drawn to drawn to Sharon like a magnet to iron.

Sharon has her own set of hang-ups to deal with, too. She is overly aggressive at her job - so much so that her partner, Robbie (Terrence Howard), repeatedly admonishes her to lighten up. Her sudden rescue by Catch, just when she is about to be capped by a hoodlum with her own gun, begins a slow-burning romance that increases in heat as each of the two discard their outer shells - hers of tough anger, his of benign confusion. As they fall for each other, they both unlock hidden, painful pasts. The release each experiences, because of their love for each other, allows both to resolve past problems and learn to love each other unconditionally.

The routine story about two troubled people finding and nurturing each other is helped by decent, though not great perfs by Lopez and Caviezel. I have never been a big fan of Jennifer Lopez (though I really liked her opposite George Clooney in Stephen Soderberg's "Out of Sight"), but found her angry cop character to have dimension. Caviezel, with those piercing, expressive eyes and handsome looks, fits the bill as the mysterious Catch. The actor has to get some roles that give him more to do than look tortured and pensive. I'd like to see the guy get a chance to thesp once in a while, instead of just expressing for the camera.

There is little going on below the performances of the two stars. Acclaimed Brazilian actress Sonia Braga ("The Kiss of the Spider Woman") appears as Sharon's mother, whose abuse by her husband (Victor Argo) years before led to the father/daughter estrangement that has lasted for years. Vet actress Shirley Knight has a small, sensitive role as Catch's caring, former mother-in-law.

Scripter Gerald DiPego joins, again, with helmer Mandoki (they last collaborated on the saccharine "Message in a Bottle") in bringing another romance to the screen. Fortunately, their second time together is better than their first. Lenser Piotr Sobocinski shifts between dark and brooding lighting, when things are serious, to warm and soft as the romance traverses the film story.

"Angel Eyes" will find its audience in the post-teen dating scene. The angst of the characters and their release from despair won't get the action fans, but it will get the romantics.