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An American in Paris, Struggling to Survive

Calling all angels! André (Jamel Debbouze, best known to American audiences for his bit role in Amélie) is a luckless loser who is drowning in a sea of gambling debts. Worse yet, his creditors have lost patience, giving him a few scant hours in which to make good…or else. Stuck in Paris -- though claiming, rather dubiously, to own a posh apartment in New York -- André appeals to the American embassy, then to the Parisian police. When they turn him away, there is only one option left: suicide.

Naturally, André messes that up, too. Standing atop a picturesque (and curiously low) bridge, he prepares for the end, only to notice a sexy, scantily clad blonde standing just a few feet away. She jumps. He follows, and drags her to shore. It is then that he meets Angela (Rie Rasmussen), the mysterious beauty who thanks him with a pledge of eternal devotion. Before long, Angela has solved his debt problem (don’t ask how), and turns her attention to André’s pathetically low self-esteem.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that there’s something not quite worldly about Angela, and not just because she can levitate coffee cups and produce cigarettes out of thin air. She is a divine creature on a mission, determined to teach André a few simple lessons. Respect yourself. Be honest. And, above all, don’t gamble on horses named after backstabbing Roman senators.

Director Luc Besson’s Angel-A is a redemption fantasy that lacks the bite of his best work but remains playfully endearing, with an uplifting climax that finds André and Angela once again tumbling into the Seine. It stumbles at times, particularly during that uncomfortable sequence in which Angela raises the cash to save André from his would-be assassins. (Again, don’t ask.) But thanks to Thierry Arbogast’s gorgeous, black-and-white cinematography, which bathes Paris in resplendent light, and an unabashedly heartwarming story that pays homage to It’s a Wonderful Life and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, it remains a guilty pleasure.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars