City Of Angels

on April 10, 1998 by Christine James
   Based on Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire," about two angels who observe humanity and wonder what it would be like to be mortal, "City of Angels" turns that magically imaginative premise into a more banal, mainstream romantic drama. As such, it succeeds, thanks to Nicolas Cage's lovable puppy-dog-eyed appeal as Seth, an angel in love with a doctor (Meg Ryan) who has an emotional and spiritual crisis when she loses a patient. Suddenly, Seth is considering "falling" just to be with her. It's the Little Mermaid Conundrum: Is love worth trading in your tail?
   The courtship is by-the-numbers (save for the fact that the courter is a celestial being). It's instant soulmate love, but there's the mildly jerky boyfriend obstacle and the "if only you could understand..." barrier. As a result, the film doesn't flourish as a sweeping romance; most of the emotion "City of Angels" evokes is not for the couple, but for the tragedies that befall humankind and the frustration of not understanding the motivations of a higher power that could permit these things to happen. This philosophical aspect is pervasive but unsatisfactorily explored.
   The film could also have used a touch more of the miraculous--as it stands, the angel species is pretty somber, somewhat boring and not particularly useful. And a scene in which the angels exhibit one of their few obvious preternatural powers, the ability to read minds, by listening to the thoughts of numerous despairing traffic-jammed motorists, was obviously copped from the R.E.M. "Everybody Hurts" video<197>only not as effectively.    Starring Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz and Andre Braugher. Directed by Brad Silberling. Written by Dana Stevens. Produced by Dawn Steel and Charles Roven. A Warner release. Romantic drama. Rated PG-13 for sexuality including language and some nudity. Running time: 113 min.
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