In “Angel-A,” Andre (Jamel Debbouze) is an American in Paris. That might sound romantic, but Andre spends most of his time being beaten up. He was born in Morocco and is now a U.S. citizen; neither nationality makes him very popular in France. He is a con man, but not a very good one, as he now owes gangsters 50,000 euros. He is without money or identification, so the U.S. consulate can’t help him. He needs — yes — a miracle.
That is the point in Luc Besson’s strange little comedy-drama when the title character arrives to save the day. Played by the Danish model Rie Rasmussen, Angel-A is a tall, leggy blonde who appears just as Andre is considering tossing himself off a bridge and ending it all. She exhibits a knack for talking bad guys out of things and coming up with enough money to keep Andre out of trouble.
Is she an angel? A prostitute? Both? Whatever the case, she’s there to help Andre, a figure who is in desperate need of help. Andre lies to himself (and us) regularly and falls for flattery very easily. He does not love himself, and you could argue that he has little reason to. But Angel-A sees his inner beauty.
This is Besson’s first film since 1999’s “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc,” and the first in his native French since 1990’s “La Femme Nikita.” Fascinated, as ever, by strong, dominating women, he does some interesting things with gender roles here. Andre has the outward forms of masculinity, including wearing a beard, yet he’s out-manned by Angel-A in almost every way. She’s taller, better at fighting, and much better at negotiating than he is — yet she’s also the very picture of femininity, with a beautiful face and figure. Together, they comprise one perfect whole.
Besson’s regular cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, has photographed the film in striking black and white. It’s possible that’s the most memorable thing about the movie. The story, despite its angelic overtones, is rather pedestrian. The acting is good enough: Jamel Debbouze makes for a likable loser, and Rasmussen gives some zip to what could have been an icy-cool character. It’s a wisp of a film, recommendable for a lark, but not nearly as ambitious or entertaining as you’d expect from Besson.
B- (1 hr., 32 min.; French with subtitles; )