Owen Gleiberman
April 16, 1998 AT 04:00 AM EDT

City of Angels

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG-13
performer
Nicolas Cage, Dennis Franz, Meg Ryan
director
Brad Silberling
genre
Romance, Drama, Sci-fi and Fantasy

We gave it an C

From the beginning, he’s had those eyes — those sad, sensitive, love-me-tender eyes that hover with liquid passivity, beckoning you to acknowledge their pain. For all that, it’s doubtful that Nicolas Cage has ever showcased his delicate soul with quite the moist relentlessness he displays in “City of Angels.”

As Seth, an angel who wanders the earth, lingering in hospitals and other crisis sites so that he can clasp the hands of the dying and lead them into heaven, Cage looks as if he’s out to win the heartbreak sweepstakes. He’s all soft, gooey compassion — a black-velvet puppy-dog painting come to life. He spends the entire movie staring and caring. A loose remake of “Wings of Desire,” Wim Wenders’ 1988 epic of mystical art kitsch, “City of Angels” is a woozy piece of “spiritual” hokum, in which Cage’s Seth falls in love with a human and must fall to earth to be with her.

The human is Maggie (Meg Ryan), a Los Angeles heart surgeon who, after losing a patient, begins to experience a fuzzified ache of her own. Seth has been hanging out in Maggie’s operating room. Like most angels, he can’t be seen or touched. But oh, how he’d like to be! And how he’d like Maggie to do the touching! Then, she looks over and, in some deep-bonding way the movie never quite explains, can suddenly see him too.

When Seth keeps popping up (in the hospital, the library, and so on), Maggie doesn’t seem to mind that this haunted-looking guy in the black overcoat is essentially stalking her. “City of Angels” is the sort of movie in which it’s not just the angels who are good; everyone on screen ends up swathed in gauzy benevolence. The movie is a hymn to sappiness. You practically have time to say a prayer in the dead spaces between lines, or to tote up the lapses in logic.This syrupy fable about becoming human is too cloyingly abstract to divine much of a difference between our world and the next one. All the difference finally comes down to is feeling water on your skin — or, in a pinch, having to take public transportation.

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