Vanessa Redgrave does glorious the way other actresses do their makeup. Routinely. Effortlessly. Organically. That Judi Dench has been appointed the current grande dame of English acting has got to be rooted in political default, because when Redgrave appears, all pretenders are cast in shadow.
But even she has trouble taking flight while having to drag along the soggy ballast of "A Rumor of Angels," a tepid, cliche-ridden tale of intergenerational friendship, grief and voices from the grave. When the movie debuted almost two years ago--at festivals--it might have still had some relevance to the angels-among-us craze, which as we all know birthed certain television shows and several million chronic delusions. (Director Peter O'Fallon is a director-producer of TV's "Mysterious Ways," so he clearly has an affinity for this kind of cloying thesis.) Theological matters aside, the movie is so clumsily sentimental and ineptly directed it may leave you speaking in tongues.
The movie looks gorgeous, though, partly because of Roy H. Wagner's cinematography and partly because it's set on a ruggedly spectacular stretch of Maine coast where 12-year-old James (Trevor Morgan of "The Patriot") is spending the summer. His mother, of course, is dead. Why "of course"? Because that way he gets to hate his new stepmother (Catherine McCormack), resent his father (Ray Liotta) for spending so much time on business in Boston, hang out with his pot-addled Uncle Charlie (Ron Livingston), and, eventually, bond with the local recluse and eccentric, Maddy Bennett (Redgrave). Together, Maddy and James will heal the wounds of their losses--James of his mother, Maddy of her son who died in Vietnam and who apparently communicates with her from the afterlife.
Maddy, a Mozart freak, fisherwoman and all-around hardy down-easter (even if she's English) spends little time being reticent with James. It's not, in other words, as if he has to pull her out of her shell. Far from it: He's an obnoxious, sullen kid (it may be cruel to say, but the actor is about as irritating as a rat in your shorts) whom Maddy decides is worthy of her considerable practical knowledge, as well as her insight into the great unknown. Why? Well, she is the local eccentric.
What Liotta and McCormack are doing in this movie--never mind Redgrave--may be something they'd want to explore on "Mysterious Ways." The emotional aspects of the story are treated with such a heavy hand, the supernatural aspects are so vague and uninvolving, and the group dynamic is so unconvincing that one can't quite imagine why anybody bothered.
It's always a treat to watch Redgrave: She seems to be channeling her old muse Isadora Duncan during one rather cringe-inducing dance with James, performed while they paint her picket fence. But it's never a treat watching actors who, for whatever reason, seem to be in it only for the money.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for certain thematic elements, an accident scene and brief references to drug use.
'A Rumor of Angels'
Vanessa Redgrave...Maddy Bennett
Ray Liotta...Nathan Neubauer
Catherine McCormack...Mary Neubauer
Trevor Morgan...James Neubauer
Ron Livingston...Uncle Charlie
Cinetel Films, Inc. and Motion Picture Corporation of America present a Lisa Hansen/Paul Hertzberg production, released by MGM. Director Peter O'Fallon. Producers Lisa Hansen, Paul Hertzberg. Executive producers Brad Krevoy, John Hamilton. Screenplay by James Eric & Jamie Horton & Peter O'Fallon, based on the book "Thy Son Liveth: Messages From a Soldier to His Mother" by Grace Duffie Boylan. Cinematographer Roy H. Wagner. Editor Louise Rubacky. Costume designer Natasha Landau. Music Tim Simonec. Production designer Stephen McCabe. Set decorator Patricia Larman. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
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