City of Angels
Release year: 1998 • Posted June 1, 2014
“When everything feels like the movies /
Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive”
The Goo Goo Dolls
First there was The Ten Commandments. And people saw it. And it was good. Then came Barabbas. Then came The Greatest Story Ever Told, and it begat The Bible: In the Beginning, which begat Jesus Christ Superstar, which begat Godspell. Once the story of the crucifixion was backed by electric guitar and retold in song, it became clear even to Hollywood that the well had run dry. What followed was a blissful cinematic period mostly free of mainstream Christian cinema.
Then Ronald Reagan happened.
The floodgates for a new American Christianity were opened. This gave way to “wholesome” entertainment continually having (sometimes subtle, sometimes overt) Christian tones. Studios started taking trendy parts of religion and turning them into movies, and in the mid-’90s no spiritual idea was hotter than angels. Consequently we got The Crow, The Prophecy, Angels in the Outfield, Michael, The Preacher’s Wife, A Life Less Ordinary, Meet Joe Black, and worst of all: City of Angels.
Considered in the context of all those other movies, perhaps the plot of City of Angels made total sense and required no leaps of faith from the viewer. Twenty years later, this movie is absolutely the most nonsensical piece of garbage this side of hell. Nicolas Cage plays a wingless angel who wanders around Earth in a trenchcoat. Unseen among humans, he escorts the souls of the recently deceased…away. The movie doesn’t get specific. I suppose that’s either to allow people of any angel-believing faith to fill that gap in themselves, or because the unstated assumption at the time was that they were going to Christian Heaven.
There are very specific rules for angels in City of Angels. Here are some of the things they can and can’t do:
- Feel things
- See colors
- Be seen by humans (varies)
- Do anything at sunset or sunrise other than stand on the beach
- Get wet
- Hear music
- See things
- Involuntarily hear human thoughts
- Be seen by humans (varies)
- Stop being angels
If that doesn’t make a fucking lick of sense to you, you’re not alone. There wasn’t much exposition to explain any of it.
When Dennis Franz shows up, things only get weirder. He’s a former angel. He stopped being an angel because he fell in love. That’s what you assume is happening to Nicolas Cage: as an angel, he begins to aggressively stalk a pre–plastic surgery Meg Ryan. The scenes between Cage and Ryan are presented with the premise—again, I’m assuming—that aggressive stalking isn’t creepy because angels obviously couldn’t have bad intentions. Increased knowledge over the past 20 years that sexual harrassment has nothing to do with intent makes Nicolas Cage’s character look like he got sidetracked on his mission from God by a new rapey obsession.
It’s creepy, and Nic’s performance doesn’t make it any better.
In City of Angels, Nic is at his most uncomfortable. Adopting a monotone, disengaging presence as an angel (even while falling in love), he suddenly turns the Cage acting meter to eleven once he stops being an angel (a process that involves jumping off of a building but instead of dying, you wake up bleeding and human). He tracks down Meg Ryan who almost immediately rides her bike into the side of a logging truck and dies. It’s supposed to be a Romeo and Juliet ending, but it’s mostly just a relief for the viewer, knowing that if the ingénue is dead, the movie must be wrapping up.
Basically everything about this movie is bad. They even work a full rear nudity scene into the movie…for Dennis Franz. I tried to find a picture or video of that for you, but I couldn’t. That’s right. The internet, where you can find “Two Girls One Cup” in less than five seconds, has forgotten about Dennis Franz’s butt. That’s how horrible it is.
And let’s not forget the soundtrack. Remember the song “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls? Of course you do, it was playing in Safeway an hour ago. It was written for this movie. Interpreting the lyrics verbatim is a summary of the film. It’s a terrible song. Also written for the City of Angels soundtrack is “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette.
I’m getting dizzy.
My cognitive processes cannot take any more ruminating over this stagnant piece of neo-Christian bullshit anymore. If I am pressed to say anything positive about this movie, it’s that City of Angels turned the water of “porn-again” Christian cinema into the wine of Christsploitation (cf. The Passion of the Christ, Constantine, Legion, and of course, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). Still awful, but at least gory to the point of being entertaining.
Unfortunately, porn-again movies might be making a comeback. Cage’s Left Behind, a film adaptation of the eschatological book series, is due later this year.
And because of this thing I’ve committed to, I’ll have to watch it. My God.
- Nic Cage’s acting?
- So bad
- Did his performance make the movie worse?
- Yes, and so much more