Having concentrated the last few years on writing and producing other people's movies ("The Transporter," "District B13 "), Luc Besson has taken a moment to grace us with a new work of his own.
The result is a small, bloodless black-and-white exercise, released in France two years ago, called "Angel-A." It's like Besson's other movies -- "The Big Blue ," "La Femme Nikita ," "The Fifth Element ," and the underrated "Joan of Arc " -- insofar as it's ludicrous. It's unlike them in a single crucial respect: the ludicrousness isn't any fun. He nonetheless appears pleased with this fairy tale of a suicidal Moroccan-born American named André (Jamel Debbouze ) and the mysterious, possibly heaven-sent woman called Angela -- played by the Danish former supermodel Rie Rasmussen -- who watches over him.
André owes money to a big bad gangster. Unable to pay, he elects to throw himself into the Seine. But before he leaps, he sees this platinum blonde derrick of a woman crashing into the water first, so he jumps in to save her, winning not just her thanks but her indentured servitude. Wearing a tight black minidress, she will help André get the money to pay his debts, using, of course, the only means Besson thinks a woman has. Soon she heads to a nightclub and proceeds to walk men from the dance floor to the loo. Cue moans of ecstasy and a growing mound of cash. Sigh.
The idea is that André -- whom Debbouze plays with aggravating nervousness -- is such a jellyfish that it takes this uninhibited celestial creature to give him a spine. There's nothing wrong with this; it's just that by now Besson's notions of comedy, action, and sex are so boring. He's a man capable of having a ball with the masculine and feminine energies swirling naturally in his heroines. "Nikita," "Fifth Element," and "Joan" were, in part, about that easy combination of the girlish and the pugnacious. "Angel-A" is all icky fantasy.
As a director he's usually best with bombast and action; he doesn't have the comedic finesse, artistic refinement, or even feigned wholesomeness to make this situation work. And whether she's straddling a chair or spin-kicking goons, Rasmussen is an action figure all the way. She's like a giant Michelle Pfeiffer but without that actress's peerless combination of grace and stress. The movie might have been more tolerable had Besson searched harder for a performer and not a specimen. Barbara Stanwyck in her prime might have made more sense.
In any case, this Angela doesn't behave like other angels before her -- Audrey Hepburn , perhaps, or Della Reese . She's a ride. And the movie practically self-destructs trying to make her into someone suffering an identity crisis. "I don't know who I am," she screams more than once. I do, Angie. You're an escapee from the Victoria's Secret's angel farm, and you're needed on the runway, immediately.