The knocks against this offbeat dramatic romance are easy to see. Some people will find it overly sentimental, melodramatic, and pretentious. Its situations will seem exaggerated, its dialogue insipid, and its characterizations more shallow than its filmmakers would lead us to believe. I almost succumbed to these drawbacks myself, except that in the long run I bought some of it, too.

I remembered after watching “Angel Eyes” that almost the same criticisms were leveled at “Doctor Zhivago,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” when they first appeared. Not that I’m suggesting any serious qualitative comparison between “Angel Eyes” and these illustriously maligned classics, but maybe you get my meaning. A lot of folks have a low tolerance for weepy-eyed emotion; others love a good cry. Thanks to a fine performance by Jennifer Lopez, this film marginally won me over but not enough for an outright recommendation. If it had borne a little more substance, said a little more that was new about life or love, I probably would have put it on my “must-see” list. As it is, I found “Angel Eyes” just another near-miss, a good could-have-been; yet a decent and watchable film, nevertheless.

Like most romances, this one is basically a two-person drama. Lopez plays Sharon Pogue, a dedicated Chicago uniformed policewoman, single and dating, angry and tough. It’s probably the best role she’s had yet because it gives her a chance to exhibit a wide range of talents–to be smart and tender and demanding at the same time. She lives in a city filled with corruption, deceit, and suspicion, and while battling bad guys all day she has to contend with the problems of her personal life, which is not going well. She has few close friends on the force, including a well-meaning partner (Terrence Howard), and she is largely estranged from her family. Her father (Victor Argo) had been physically abusive to her mother (Sonia Braga) to the point where she, as a police officer, finally had to have him hauled in to jail to prove a point. The result is that now the father doesn’t speak to her anymore and the mother resents her for having butted in. What’s more, Sharon sees the same kind of abusive attitude in her brother toward his wife.

Sharon is not a happy person. This still doesn’t explain, though, how she can take out her discouragement so easily on the criminals she nabs; after all, she’s at most about a 110-120 pound woman, yet she slams around 200 pound guys with the ease of an Ultimate Fighting Championship contender. Kind of weakens the believability factor, you know?

Anyway, into her life comes a mysterious stranger, Catch (Jim Caviezel). He’s a loner, quiet and shy, wandering around town doing good deeds. He has no background and lives in an empty apartment. His biggest accomplishment is saving Sharon’s life by grabbing a gunman about to blow her head off. Later, when she asks him why he did it, why he risked his life that way, he answers that he did because he admires cops. And why did he happen to be there at that precise minute? He says he guesses they were supposed to meet. Before long, she has invited him into her flat, and they have become attracted to one another.

Catch is at once the most fascinating and the most frustrating character in the movie. At first, we think he may be some kind of supernatural being, an angel, perhaps. Next, we think he may simply be exceptionally slowwitted in the manner of a Forrest Gump, he talks so little and seems so naive. I won’t reveal if or what is finally revealed about his background except to assure you it is one of those only-in-the-movies kind of things, and it may or may not live up to your expectations. What annoyed me most, however, was Catch’s stubble, which remains at exactly the same length for days, even weeks, on end, until symbolically he shaves it off near the end of the picture. I mean, do these movie guys have special electric razors built expressly to trim whiskers to one-eighth of an inch? I suppose it’s the same way these movie folks always get parking places in big cities right in front of the buildings they need to go into. Stumps me.

I liked the relationship Sharon and Catch establish, at least at first. He’s a shoulder for her to cry on, a kind, sweet, gentle man, but with memories of his own, memories he’s desperately trying to escape. He’s starting from scratch, he says. In a world of meanness, confusion, and discontent, two people trying to find their own separate peace with one another is reassuring. These two people trying to find their way through the mire seemed plausible to me, too. Both characters have their own wounds to heal, and I applaud the movie’s attempt to keep the characters and their situations honest.

But honesty should not be confused with mediocrity, and that’s what happens by the film’s end. When we reach the movie’s climax, it’s disappointingly more theatrical than we had anticipated. OK, maybe I should have expected the sort of movie we get; the director, Luis Mandoki, had previously made “Message In a Bottle” and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” neither of which generated much sympathy among critics or the general public.

The picture quality is pretty good in a 1.74:1 ratio, enhanced for widescreen TVs. The colors are slightly muted, but very natural, and digital artifacts are at a minimum. Definition is about average for a new film, and the image is fairly clean.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is superb, with sounds and voices coming from everywhere they need to be. But the audio is never used to wow the audience; for a change, the new surround technology actually serves the story, with rear-channel effects used sparingly but effectively.

As for special features, there is only one of note: a commentary track with director Mandoki. Otherwise, there are a few cast and director highlights, twenty-nine scene selections, English and French spoken languages, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Parting Shots:
“Angel Eyes” is the kind of film that appears to be going someplace and then never quite gets there. It’s a touching and affecting story for the first hour or so with promises of startling insights as it goes along; then it turns all soft and gushy on us. That may be exactly what a lot of viewers are looking for, and I must admit I came dangerously near to falling under its spell. Catch says of life, “It doesn’t have to be perfect; it can be whatever it is.” I’d count “Angel Eyes” as clearly less than perfect, just a mite out of the strike zone, you might say; but in a pickup game with friends, maybe that’s close enough.