If nothing else, Angel-A deserves credit for aping the look and feel of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, from its dreamy, high-contrast black-and-white cinematography to the glittering romance of its Paris setting. But at heart, it's just the latest from one-man industry Luc Besson, so even though it looks like art, it plays like schlock. Like the farces of commercial-minded countryman Francis Veber, Besson's gimmicky, crowd-pleasing romps embody so many of the faults endemic to American studio filmmaking that it's hard to watch his French movies, particularly Angel-A, without imagining an American remake, say with Ben Stiller as its hapless every-schmuck and Angelina Jolie as one seriously in-your-face guardian angel.
Days Of Glory's Jamel Debbouze plays the aforementioned loser, a hapless would-be player contemplating suicide after racking up debts with seemingly half the hoods in Paris. But before Debbouze can take that fatal plunge, he saves the life of fellow bridge-jumper Rie Rasmussen, a tall, model-pretty blonde who happens to be Debbouze's guardian angel. Rasmussen quickly sets about solving all of Debbouze's problems en route to teaching her self-destructive young protégé to believe in himself, seize the day, and other empowering nonsense.
There's ample opportunity for dark comedy in a film about a gorgeous guardian angel with a mouth like a sailor, fists of fury, and the badass attitude of a sneering punk-rocker, but Besson inexplicably goes for soft-headed romance. Debbouze repays Rasmussen's infinite kindness with thin-skinned irritation bordering on outright contempt. Naturally, the gorgeous, sharp-witted Rasmussen falls hopelessly in love with the feral, belligerent loser in her charge. Angel-A offers dreamy escapism, but its romantic fantasy would be a lot more appealing if its male lead didn't spend nearly the entire film cravenly sucking up to male hoods and bullying his literally heaven-sent savior. Debbouze exhibits an appealing vulnerability in two scenes, but they don't make up for the flaming jackassery of his conduct during the rest of the movie. Lacking the infectious loopiness of Besson's best work, this dopey Harlequin romance—think Wings Of Desire for dummies—leaves little doubt that Besson's book of love is as glittery and festooned with puffy little heart stickers as a 9-year-old girl's Trapper Keeper. The seemingly inevitable American version can only be an improvement.