We’re No Angels

You know, after a period of reflection, I’m actually glad to have seen a film like We’re No Angels, because it made me realize my job as a b-movie critic has been way too easy lately. Writing a review for such targets as XXX: State of the Union or Gang Justice is the equivalent of tying my shoes these days. There’s no challenge, no strain, no real pain involved in watching those films. We’re No Angels, on the other hand, is a movie I definitely had to slog through, an exercise in tedium which opened my eyes once again to just how low certain actors, writers, and directors can sink when put together. So thank you, We’re No Angels, and prepare to be wasted.

Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, and Demi Moore star in this complete disaster, which was penned by the all too uneven talent of David Mamet and directed by Neil Jordon. Advertised as a Madcap Romp, the movie follows DeNiro and Penn as two hapless convicts who fly the Iron Bar Coop after their fellow inmate, Bobby, manages to elude the electric chair and arrange their freedom. The duo gets separated from Bobby and wind up posing as priests in a nearby town, where they get into all kinds of zany adventures. Moore plays the atheist-minded mother to a deaf and dumb daughter, and she’s a feisty foil to DeNiro’s gruff con.

Sounds practically lighthearted, right? Oh, you are so very wrong, my friends. Mamet’s screenplay as read comes off as a nightmarish mixture of Abbot and Costello and Pulp Fiction, and Neil Jordon’s direction only makes the oil-and-water combination even more absurdly apparent. The movie’s opening credits music swells with wonder and delight, but the first scene takes place in a penitentiary so exaggerated and dark it would make any viewer cringe. Prisoners hobble about limply, pushing heavy wagon loads while coal dust rains down from above. A warden straight out of a Looney Tune barks wildly, and there’s a moment where he beats Sean Penn with a riding crop played so seriously you’d think you were watching The Shawshank Redemption. When Bobby is escaping, he shoots at least a dozen cops, their blood tastefully splattered across the walls of the prison.

This sense of melodramatic hopelessness permeates through the entire film, so much so that any attempt at a laugh fails instantly. DeNiro sneaks a peek at a bare-breasted lass, Penn steals a shirt but doesn’t notice the clothespin still attached to his collar, and so on. These are limp comedic efforts at best, appearing in a picture so morbid and unhappy they cannot possibly stir a chuckle from their audience. In retrospect, however, these moments could have fared better if not hindered by such an awful cast.

Neil Jordon’s only direction to his stable of actors must have consisted of two simple words: Scream louder. DeNiro attacks the camera like an angered bear, frothing at the mouth and flailing about like a chicken recently separated from its head. And when he tries to do comedy, the only trick up his sleeve is to mug for the camera and continue to do the same shoulder shrugging, arm waving movement over, and over, and over again. I swear he does it at least six times in a row at one point. Moore is no better, shrieking to the heavens and delivering her Mamet dialogue like a cat trying to exorcise something spiny from its throat. This is a screen couple worthy of indictment, and the idea they could be romantically involved in any way made me sick to my stomach. Penn is the only one who walks away from this movie with a shred of dignity, as he thankfully resists the temptation to scream like his comrades.

So after about 130 minutes of this dreck, this soupy slop, this regurgitated cheese, this virus-laden sociopath of a film, I was more than ready to reach the finale and finally get We’re No Angels out of my house. Luckily for me, Jordon and Mamet saved the best for last, a truly revolting scene where Bobby is shot to death (you get to watch every bullet go inside his body…comedy!), and drags the Virgin Mary and the deaf/dumb girl down into a river. DeNiro saves the day, though, using the Mary statue as a makeshift raft. This all culminates in the girl saying her first words, which point out how DeNiro and Penn are convicts. Of course, the real priests hear “converts” instead, and the identities of our supposed heroes are kept safe. Penn decides to stay at the monastery, and DeNiro crosses the border into Canada with Moore and her daughter.

“I want to take my vows,” Moore asserts, “…unless you have a better idea, father.” DeNiro breaks into his usual mug before waving to a Penn bathed in Godly light. He then turns to Moore and says, “I think I do, ma’am. I think I do.” When Moore asks for some details, he simply takes her arm, keeps walking and says, “All in due time, my lady.” The music swells, as if we’ve just finished watching the most inspiring feature film ever made, and the credits roll.

Okay, I’m done, there’s no more else to say. This is a film worth nothing less than contempt, and if you ever watch it and walk away with any sort of enjoyment in your heart, you need to check into a mental institution post haste. That said, I now appreciate my job more than ever, so at least the experience wasn’t a total loss.

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