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Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002

A love story, yes, but with a catch

Angel Eyes

Rating: * *
Director: Luis Mandoki
Running time: 102 minutes
Language: English
Starts Oct. 12

I'm in a quandary here. After years of sitting around with my girlfriends guffawing at rented romantic movies on Friday nights, shouting "Puh-leese! Gimme a break!" at the high levels of gooey, soppy sap, I've discovered, at this late hour, that I actually liked those things. You know, they don't make 'em like they used to anymore.

News photo
Jennifer Lopez in "Angel Eyes"

Nowadays, love stories try to be nitty-gritty and "real." They have discarded the flowing long dress for distressed jeans and combat boots, so to speak. Increasingly, we find ourselves deprived of the joy of throwing tomatoes at the screen and pretending to gag. And it turns out, "Angel Eyes" is another in this series of disappointments.

With its sugary title and Jennifer Lopez as the centerpiece, one's fingers are flexed to lob the first tomato, but "Angel Eyes" stops that throw mid-air. Director Luis Mandoki spends a good one-third of the film stressing how hardworking, how dedicated, how cool and tough Jennifer is in the role of a Chicago street cop named Sharon.

Sharon's so wired she can't sleep and welcomes the graveyard shift. She abhors dating and will tell the guy halfway through dinner: "I'm no good at this stuff, OK?" To her fellow policemen, she shouts things like, "Don't bust my balls." The way she puts the cuffs on a thug 30 kg heavier than her makes the "Miami Vice" boys look like toothless geriatrics.

Although this is a great character for, say, a buddy cop thriller/comedy with maybe Morgan Freeman as her sage sidekick, alas, before we get too comfortable with the sight of Sharon in a bulletproof vest, enter The Guy.

We all know this Guy. Handsome but not too much, sensitive, but not overly so, loving, attentive and a little macho when the occasion calls. Oh, and drug-free, nonworkaholic and commitment-minded. At one time The Guy was Kevin Kline. Then he became Matthew Broderick. Even Brad Pitt had a crack at it a couple of times. And now, the newest in this crop is Jim Caviezel ("High Crimes," "Frequency") who in this film, is called Catch.

"But no last name," he tells Sharon. "I can't tell you anything beyond that." Ordinarily, Sharon would write him off as a screwball. But he looks into her eyes and her cop heart melts. She's a woman again.

Mandoki and screenwriter Gerald DiPego swerve off this love-story lane too quickly for us to fling any tomatoes and head for another freeway. Turns out that Sharon is recovering from childhood trauma related to her abusive father (Victor Argo). She had blown the whistle on him 10 years ago, when she caught him beating up her mother (Sonia Braga). Since then, she's been alienated from the whole family. Worse, she now suspects her brother Larry (Jeremy Sisto) is doing the same to his wife. Sharon agonizes about this, but keeps telling herself that "I did the right thing."

Meanwhile, Catch has some problems of his own. He doesn't seem to have a job apart from delivering groceries to an old lady (Shirley Knight) once a week. He refuses to drive a car and prefers to walk the streets all day. Like a good cop, Sharon follows him home, bursts into his apartment and investigates the place, trying to come up with a positive I.D. on this mystery man.

In doing so, she's so professional and hard-as-nails it's a wonder the pair get any romance going. But when they do, it's skittish, full of doubts and apprehensions (just like in real life!). Sharon is still wondering who Catch really is and is pained by her family past. Catch, for his part, doesn't want to enlighten her as to who he is, but he does want to support and help her, in a dopey kind of way.

In the end, this fragmentation of the story does more harm than good and we don't know what we're supposed to be seeing: family trauma or slow-blossoming love? The fact is "Angel Eyes" is designed for J. Lo only -- it's not what she brings to the film but how much the film can display her talents: tough professional woman, fiery but vulnerable daughter, passionate but inquisitive lover. There's no doubt that she works hard to get everything together, but you walk away feeling like you just had a full, 100-minute blast of a J. Lo promo presentation.

It's almost enough to make you want to scream "Come back, gooey, sugar-coated love stories! We need you now!"

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