We're No Angels | Chicago Reader

We're No Angels

Offensive and inept treacle that shockingly demonstrates what a lot of talented or reputable people—including actors Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, and Demi Moore, screenwriter David Mamet, and director Neil Jordan—will do for money. Set near the Canadian border in 1935 and very loosely based on a mediocre 1955 Hollywood comedy of the same title, which was in turn derived from a French farce, the film follows the misadventures of two escaped convicts (De Niro and Penn) who impersonate priests in order to elude a search party. It's a reasonable enough premise for a comedy, but the filmmakers lazily treat it as what James Blish once called an “idiot plot”—a story in which everything happens because every character involved is an idiot—without bothering to make it witty or even vaguely plausible, and solve most of their dramatic problems by unloading enough fake piety (including a contrived religious miracle) to exploit reverent and irreverent viewers alike. Mamet, of course, already has a record of doing hackwork on other people's pictures, but not even the silliest and most cynical elements in The Postman Always Rings Twice or The Untouchables approach the amateurish exposition and dialogue here, which are made even dumber by all three cardboard leads and their improbable Brooklyn accents. The only point of interest in this truly stupid mess is the combined efforts of production designer Wolf Kroeger and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot to create evocative period textures and details in the prison and the border town—sets that deserve a much better picture than this one. With Hoyt Axton, Bruno Kirby, Ray McAnally, James Russo, and Wallace Shawn.

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