At the Heart of 'Angel' Is Supernatural Appeal

Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly writes about film for The Times O range County.

"Angel Heart," which opens UC Irvine's "Cinema Potpourri" fall movie series Friday night, has become something of a mini-cult film. The reasons are as clear as the picture's plot is murky--"Angel Heart" is weird, atmospheric and blatant, a noir spook show that grows on you like fungus in a dark basement.

I have to say that I didn't much like Alan Parker's flick when it came out in 1987, thinking "Angel Heart" was an often pretentious and haphazard attempt to graft supernatural horror onto the mystery genre. Since then, though, it's worked on me. I've seen it a few times, now enjoying the grim humor and outrageous plot shifts embedded in the bizarre story line.

Besides, the picture's look is vivid, almost arty at times, as Parker's low-rent gumshoe (played by Mickey Rourke at his most guttural and shambling) stumbles down a nasty path of dirty blues clubs, frenetic voodoo, mega-murder and the strangest self-revelation of all.

Of course, this is one of those films that requires the discarding of rational thought. At the center of the tale is a devilish pact involving soul-transmutation; it's silly, provoking sighs of "you gotta be kidding me!" as everything is revealed by the movie's end. But getting there can be a kick, especially if you realize that Parker and his cast are winking at us all along.

Everything centers on Harry Angel, a '50s detective from Brooklyn. Angel, who couldn't find a shaving razor to save his life and obviously doesn't believe in having his suits pressed, has been handling petty jobs like divorces and insurance scams until the nefarious Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) comes along.

Cyphre wants Angel to locate Johnny Favorite, a crooner who owes Cyphre something big. Angel doesn't have a clue what's going on, but the money is good and there's nothing else to do, so what the hell. What the hell is right, for soon after he descends into a corrupt nether world in Louisiana where the bodies start to pile up and he crawls closer to finding out how he fits in.

Along the way, he meets up with a fetching voodoo priestess played by Lisa Bonet of "The Cosby Show" fame. Bonet isn't particularly good, but she did make headlines at the time for her sweaty, X-rated bedroom scene with Rourke that was eventually cut. The passage is still pretty raw; daddy Huxtable would not approve.

Rourke is amusing as he dimwittedly plods along. The actor knows how to make stupid seem sexy, and he accomplishes it here. But the most slyly funny performance comes from De Niro. His Cyphre is so evil, it's as if toxic waste is leaking through his pores.

De Niro goes beyond the fringe (watch him as he insists that eggs--yes, eggs!--are symbols of the soul and then chomps down on one like a hungry wolf as Angel watches in shock), but it's a very funny stretch.

The entire movie is like that. Parker splashes blood everywhere, then shifts to a moody interior or exterior shot to calm everything down. The tempo moves from the gruesome to the comical in an instant. "Angel Heart" is full of passionate disorder, but it's an entertaining mess all the same.

* What: Alan Parker's "Angel Heart."

* When: Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 and 9 p.m.

* Where: The UC Irvine Student Center Crystal Cove Auditorium.

* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south to Campus Drive and take a left. Turn right on Bridge Road and take it into the campus.

* Wherewithal: $2 to $4.

* Where to call: (714) 856-5588.


The Fabulous Dorseys

(NR) Tommy and Jimmy appear as themselves in this 1947 musical biography. The film will screen Friday, Sept. 30, at 12:45 p.m. in the Cypress Senior Center, 9031 Grindlay St. Public welcome. (714) 229-6776. FREE

Sleepless in Seattle

(PG) Tom Hanks plays a widower in Seattle whose young son gets him to express, through a call-in radio show, his feelings about his wife's death. A Baltimore reporter (Meg Ryan) falls in love with him after hearing him on the radio. Through the son, the two eventually meet. The film, directed by Nora Ephron in 1993, screens Wednesday, Oct. 5, and Oct. 7 at 12:45 p.m. at the Cypress Senior Center, 9031 Grindlay St. Public welcome. (714) 229-6776. FREE

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