Movie review: 'Cowboys and Angels'

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3 stars (out of 4)

"Have you ever felt that life was passing you by? Did you ever feel that there was something missing?"

If those questions, which kick off the Irish import "Cowboys and Angels," sound sophomoric, consider that a 20-year-old buttoned-down geek utters them. And what follows is atypical as young adult films go—over the next 90 minutes, said geek moves in with a gay roommate, mulls quitting a dead-end civil service job for art school and becomes the most unlikely of drug runners.

John Hughes, this is not.

Nor is Shane (Michael Legge) some carbon copy of Anthony Michael Hall. Whereas Hall mugged and nudge-nudged his way through the Hughes oeuvre, Shane is a more believable loser—one whose misshapen bowl haircut and wide-eyed stare tell us he's a perpetual outsider.

Always late for work, Shane seeks his first flat in Limerick to be closer to his job. The only way he can afford it is to share it with a gay fashion student, Vincent (Allen Leech). As the two cement a friendship, Vincent offers Shane a makeover from crown on down to improve his chances with women.

Paying for a new wardrobe seems impossible until Shane stumbles on a drug stash in the lobby of his building. Clueless kid he is, he holds onto it overnight, then returns it to its hiding place—and is caught by the downstairs neighbor, drug dealer Keith (David Murray).

Instead of kicking the snot out of Shane, Keith takes him out for a pint and offers him 1,000 Euros if he makes a "small" drug run from Dublin to Limerick. At first Shane refuses, but as he falls for Vincent's friend Gemma (Amy Shields), he reconsiders.

Complications and accidents ensue, and Shane proceeds to make a mess of his life and his dreams. Some of the resolutions may seem too pat at first—but once we learn more about Shane's past and present, a portrait of the character emerges that is as detailed as the charcoal sketches adorning his bedroom wall.

One surprise at the end of writer-director David Gleeson's film earns a belly laugh; another, centering on Vincent's fashion show deadline, seems obvious and forced. But stack "Cowboys" against most of the fare American studios offer young adults and it's meatier by far. Here we witness a healthy friendship between a gay and straight male that doesn't call for stilted changes in personality or sexual orientation.

What's more, pertinent questions of purpose, identity and finding one's place in the world undergird the plot. These questions—which viewers of all ages can appreciate—are answered convincingly as Shane leaps from unseasoned to unstoppable.

'Cowboys and Angels'

Directed and written by David Gleeson; photographed by Volker Tittel; production design by Jim Furlong; music by Stephen McKeon; edited by Andrew Bird; produced by Nathalie Lichtenhaeler. A TLA Releasing release; at the Landmark Century Centre, 2828 N. Clark St. Running time: 1:29. No MPAA rating (language).

Shane - Michael Legge
Vincent - Allen Leech
Gemma - Amy Shields
Keith - David Murray
Jerry - Frank Kelly
Inspector - Nigel Mercier

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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