The Crow: City Of Angels

One of my least favourite genres is the revenge picture.  The set-up is almost always the same.  In the beginning, the hero or someone close to that character is violated in some manner (sometimes it’s rape and/or a robbery but usually it’s murder) and the villains (beginning with nasty underlings) are hunted down one by one until the big final confrontation between the sympathetic protagonist and the real source of his or her unrelenting rage.  Yawn.

It’s nice when a picture deviates from this formula in some way (the original Death Wish, Sudden Impact, Gangs Of New York and The Limey come to mine) or is so skillfully made you don’t mind its conventionality so much.  The Crow fits neatly into the latter category.  Sadly more famous for the preventable tragedy that claimed its star, the film was nonetheless a fine piece of cinematic pulp fiction. 

Had Brandon Lee not died at the hands of an uninspected prop gun, thanks to his charisma, affability and commitment, it’s likely he would’ve had a nice long run as a second generation movie star.  (The worst part of his untimely death, however, was that he never got to enjoy married life with his fiance.  He died days before their wedding.)

When he signed on to do The Crow the original plan for him was to appear in a trilogy of features.  After his death, the sequels (3 of them, ultimately) were still made but each starred a different leading man each playing a different character. 

The only other film in the series to get a theatrical release was The Crow:  City Of Angels, the first follow-up.  Having finally screened it 15 years after its brief late summer run in theatres, I’m appalled by its utter vacuousness.  Thanks to its artistic and commercial shortcomings it’s all too easy to understand why the other sequels bypassed your local multiplex.

In the first film, an engaged couple are murdered by home invaders.  In City Of Angels, it’s a single dad and his son who get taken out by a drug lord’s goons after they accidentally witness a street killing.  I’m convinced that French actor Vincent Perez was cast purely because of his uncanny resemblance to Brandon Lee.  It sure wasn’t for his acting.  He’s terribly uneven here and his thick accent (never properly explained) often gets in the way of his delivery.  His less than professional work reminded me unfortunately of the oeuvre of Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Like the earlier feature, a crow somehow brings his underwritten character (but not his son) back to semi-life.  A young tattoo artist (the beguiling and sadly misused Mia Kirshner) has foreseen his tragic demise and resurrection in recurring nightmares.  (Why, you ask?  You’re asking the wrong person.)  Thanks to that same black bird, she witnesses firsthand his return to the half living. 

After intially remembering bits and pieces of what happened to him and his little boy (more flashbacks happen throughout the picture), Perez knows what needs to be done.  So the hunt is on for the men and one woman who ruined his family life. 

All of this routine, far from compelling business is set in a very bleak, undated Los Angeles.  (I’m presuming it’s set in the future.  Not that that matters, though.)  One of the only good things I can say for this mess of a movie (besides some of the music) is its convincing atmosphere of loneliness and dread.  Thanks to the art direction, City Of Angels looks and eventually feels the way it should, like a grimy hell on earth on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

In virtually every scene set outdoors (with one notable exception), there is little bustle or hustle.  This shithole is literally caked in dirt and smog.  Clouds of dust (or is that fog) engulf every part of the city.  There is literally no sunshine.  Not even a decent drug habit or a good wank in the Peep-o-rama can spare you from this misery.

Richard Brooks, probably best known for being the assistant D.A. during the first couple of seasons of Law & Order, plays Judah Earl (no relation), the drug lord/pimp who orders the hit on Perez and his kid.  You’d think he would enjoy such an act of depravity since 1) he makes a point of noting how he gets off on the pain of others and 2) the event, like many of his organization’s crimes, is captured on video for repeat viewings.  But he ends up sounding and looking very bored throughout the entire movie, like I did.  It’s the epitome of a joyless performance.

Case in point:  he has an eyeless psychic (don’t ask) who pores candle wax on a tied-up naked gal.  As he watches, you could probably snap your fingers several times in front of his eyes and he wouldn’t blink or even get annoyed.  I don’t know about you but I never blankly scowl at a naked lady.  I prefer a sheepish grin.

When you think about it, the elimination of Perez and his child (which isn’t a well produced sequence, by the way, despite being shown way too much) is totally unnecessary.  I don’t remember seeing any government officials or law enforcement agents roaming the streets of this turd bucket.  So what’s the point of rubbing out witnesses to your crimes if there are no consequences to your actions in the first place?

You could argue that Brooks and his thugs simply like to hurt people because they can.  But in one key flashback sequence, his minions aren’t really that keen on doing his bidding this time.  I mean, sure, they do end up committing the murders but it’s not like they had a choice, right?

I’m an enormous Iggy Pop fan but what the hell is he doing here?  He looks the part of a nasty thug but I didn’t really hate him all that much.  Despite a considerable amount of screen time as Brooks’ most chatty underling he’s just not very natural in the part.  (Maybe he should’ve been the drug lord.  At least he enjoys being a bad guy.) 

It doesn’t help that he’s saddled with some really odd dialogue that borders on cheesy.  At one point, during the peep show sequence, the look of horror on his face made me laugh out loud.  Not good.  He has an endless supply of charisma but taking this part was an enormous mistake.

And what’s the deal with Kirshner and Perez?  At the start, we think she’s his widow (which would explain all the dreaming) but then it turns out that the mother of his child is some drug addict we never meet because she’s long out of the picture.  The movie toys with the idea of them possibly having a romance but thankfully never follows through.  They don’t have any chemistry to begin with.

Throughout City Of Angels, you can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to live here or even do business with its few remaining citizens.  What’s the appeal?  How can you make a decent living in such a dire environment?  It’s a pretty depressing place where the idea of having hope is not only pointless, it’s silly.  The fact that the movie doesn’t even address this is one of the many reasons it fails so miserably.  In the end, it’s nothing more than atmospheric nonsense.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 17, 2011
1:12 p.m.

Published in: on July 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] 14. All the horrible films I subjected myself to this year:  Porky’s, A Nightmare On Elm Street (the remake), MacGruber, Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo, The Grudge 2, Vampires Suck, Jackass The Movie, The Stepfather remake and The Crow: City Of Angels. […]

  2. […] Of the 29 films I viewed, 13 were good, very good or excellent.  Seven of these features – The Crow: City Of Angels, Super 8, X-Men: First Class, Eclipse (the third Twilight movie), Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo, A […]

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