Angel Eyes (2001)

by Robert Ara Svihla


"Let's talk about something stupid."

Sharon Pogue (Jennifer Lopez) is a tough Chicago cop whose beat is populated with thugs who seem less interested in crime than in making crude sexual advances towards her (“That’s not the touch I want,” croons one nasty crook as Sharon restrains him). But while Sharon’s comfortable with her job (trying to relax after an unsuccessful date, she strips off her dress and puts on her bulletproof vest), she is completely awkward when it comes to social situations, especially those involving her family, which has a history of domestic violence that resulted in a rift between Sharon and her father (Victor Argo). After learning that her mother (Sonia Braga) and father are going to renew their marriage vows, Sharon is beset by her family to forgive dad’s past indiscretions. When she refuses to do so, they ostracize her, and Sharon’s mother tells her, “You just think of the bad, you only remember the bad,” as if that were such a horrible thing to do.

Meanwhile, Catch (James Caviezel) is a mysterious samaritan who seems to have nothing to do but walk around town doing good deeds. The odd thing is that Catch seems more interested in the deeds themselves than the people he performs them for: as he walks past a car whose headlights have been left on, he reaches in to shut them off, only to be (understandably) accused of stealing. Catch’s response is to punch the guy (!) and scold him: “I helped you!” His other preoccupation is Sharon, whom he is stalking for some reason. After Catch saves her from a would-be murderer, the two have a series of incredibly awkward conversations: Catch says, “I guess we were supposed to meet,” to which Sharon responds, “That sounds a little too psychic-friends.” Moments like this might be meant to engage the audience in Sharon and Catch’s relationship, but instead feel forced and phony.

cover art

Angel Eyes

Director: Luis Mandoki
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, James Caviezel, Sonia Braga, Terrence Howard, Jeremy Sisto, Victor Argo, Shirley Knight

(Warner Brothers)

Still, their exchanges do capture their uneasiness in intimate situations, best depicted when Sharon tries to lighten the mood by suggesting they “talk about something stupid.” The suggestion establishes one of the film’s major themes: people’s inability to communicate with one another. This comes up again and again: when Catch knocks on a neighbor’s door to point out the keys are still in the lock, a woman answers the door, phone in hand, and screams, “Fuck you!” then apologizes to Catch, “No, not you, this guy on the phone.” In another scene, Catch’s Freudian slip shows when he tells Sharon, “I was trying to picture you without your clothes on,” perhaps echoing the audience’s desires for a brief moment, before he corrects himself: he’s really referring to her uniform. Yeah, right.

This is all ironic when you consider that the film miscommunicates with its audience throughout, hinting at a supernatural theme, and yet, for better or worse, never conceding to it. An example of this is the opening scene, which puts the audience in the position of a car crash victim (we realize shortly after that it’s Catch) who is being helped by Sharon. The images fade in and out, as if straddling the line between life and afterlife, until ultimately drowning in a flash of light, reminiscent of the proverbial white light at the end of the tunnel. But moments like this never amount to anything, as if director Luis Mandoki and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego are using supernatural ingredients to cook up an eerie “surprise” ending, with no intention of ever pulling them together. Similarly, Angel Eyes has trouble dealing with the issue of domestic violence, to the point that it seems thematically bulimic, introducing the idea, then throwing it up rather than digesting it. Focusing on Sharon’s family’s contempt for her (because she once called the cops and took the situation “outside the family”), the movie gives short shrift to the actual violence.

Instead, Angel Eyes is invested in Sharon and Catch’s romance, most of which is generic. And yet, there is a glimmer of something original in the way the two lovebirds seem to be constructed as each other’s doubles. They both do good deeds and have remarkably similar poor social skills (they both rifle through the other’s personal stuff, only to get defensive when the same act is committed against them). One visual expression of their affinity comes when we watch Sharon and Catch dining, through a restaurant window, the light playing tricks with their images so they look as if they are talking to their own reflections instead of each other. Unfortunately, the film never goes anywhere with this concept, but sublimates it in favor of Sharon and Catch’s hackneyed romance, where their differences are most important. This is perhaps most clumsily realized in a scene where they go cliff diving (in Chicago?) and we see Catch’s messy leap into the water contrasted with Sharon’s neat dive. Must be true love!

The reasons for Angel Eyes’ failure are many. Fingers will inevitably be pointed in J. Lo’s direction, and for good reason: while not as bad as the film’s indecisive treatment of its themes, she is one of its bigger disappointments. Playing a social outcast capable of helping others but incapable of helping herself (much like her character in The Wedding Planner), Lopez still comes off as too much of a star she is, and not enough of the lonely beat cop she’s supposed to be. So, though Sharon is supposedly an insomniac (“I love graveyard shift,” she tells her cohorts, to which they respond, “You like it cause you can’t sleep at night”), she never displays any physical effects: no puffy eyelids and bloodshot eyes for J. Lo! Fresh out of bed, after a sleepless night of tossing and turning, she looks ready for a photo shoot. While all the dramatic weight in the world couldn’t have saved this picture from itself, an occasional attempt at plausibility would have been nice, rather than the apparent catering to Lopez’s ego we see here. Even the title of the film is complicit in this ego-stroking, as it has little to do with the film itself, but refers to a much-lauded physical attribute of its star. Maybe that’s something stupid Sharon and Catch could talk about.

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