Luc Besson's scripts tend to feel as if they were dashed off in an afternoon, and they brim with hormonal male fantasy. It's no surprise that he conceived The Fifth Element and The Big Blue when he was a schoolboy; Angel-A proves the 48-year-old auteur hasn't much grown up. Released in 2005 in France, Angel-A was rumored to be Besson's valedictory film as director, but the fickle filmmaker has since released Arthur and the Invisibles, with two sequels planned, so naysayers shouldn't throw any parties yet.
"Angel-A" refers to Angela, a (wait for it—) angel who's come to earth to save André, a Ratso Rizzo-type played by Jamel Debbouze (Days of Glory). Angela (Danish actress-director Rie Rasmussen) is a leggy Amazon, and like Clarence, she meets her George Bailey as he's about to leap from a bridge in glorious black and white (courtesy of cinematographer Thierry Arbogast). But this time the bridge is in Paris, and the angel comes in the form of—her words—a "slut" who offers to do anything for André.
The slut turns out to be Stuart Smalley, parking André in front of a mirror so he can tell himself he's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it, people like him. On the way to André's catharsis, the mercurial Angela waxes flirtateous ("Quit beating around the bush"), insulting (she calls him "a woman" and "a little boy"), and faithful regarding his potential for redemption. By extension, Besson's belief that a tortured whiner is redeemable implies that anyone can be saved...even an angel with low self-esteem.
The press notes at are pains to point out the film's guerrilla shooting style, but it's obvious Besson has plenty of resources at his disposal, and the film's style is far more fabulous than it is gritty (which explains why Paris' streets and bridges seems so empty, the better to romanticize its couple in space). Angel-A is as talky as it is visually striking, and the actors are up to the task.
In establishing André as not only a man bereft of any material or emotional resources but also a man without a home, Besson goofs on Franco-American and Franco-Arabic tensions (André criminally lived in New York for a time, and—when he literally can't get arrested—he laments, "An Arab without I>D.—what's the problem?!"). Debouzze, first a stand-up comic, fits like a glove the role of a man who must be reminded to breathe more and talk less. One wishes Angela were given as much due; the best Besson can offer is to play coy about whether or not she whores herself out to accomplish her task ("What does it matter?" she asks). In short, Angel-A moves quite fluidly and looks great, but it'll likely only be of any use to troubled and, yes, hormonal teenage boys.