Short of resurrecting Brandon Lee from the grave, it was no mean feat to stir up anticipation for The Crow: City of Angels. Lee, you'll recall, had the title role in 1994's The Crow, a black-mass revenge thriller about a tormented phantom who hunts down the criminal gang that took his life. But when Lee himself was killed in an on-location accident, it set the stage for the film to be marketed as a kind of freak-snuff event: the story of a ghost who really was a ghost. Since Lee, like his late father, Bruce Lee, had a feral screen presence, his magnetism only heightened the film's macabre irony. It was as if we were watching an actor haunted by his own death.
Vincent Perez, who follows Lee's lead in the sequel, has no such charisma. He's wearing the same Marcel Marceau-meets-the-Joker makeup, but there's nothing going on beneath the teary spectral mask. The Crow: City of Angels offers the usual fragmentary ''visions'' of apocalypse (Batman nightscapes, S&M revels, endless shots of...crows), all mashed together into an occult junkyard that makes your typical horror-trash music video look like a model of coherence. As the film's showiest villain, Iggy Pop, the proto-punk legend, taunts the camera with a face so rotten it resembles a melted candle. He may be the most cadaverous presence in movie history, yet he remains defiantly, gloriously lewd a Mick Jagger of the crypt. Unfortunately, the director, Tim Pope, is incapable of staging what is usually referred to as ''a scene,'' and so neither Pop nor the other villains get to be more than images. The Crow: City of Angels is the sort of movie in which the characters brood for an eternity before delivering a solemn howler like, ''You took away the only piece of light left in my soul!'' Even for teens hooked on the grandiloquence of death-metal masochism, the movie may seem closer to an endless Sunday in church. D