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Paramount Studios presents
Deputy: Bless me father for I have sinned, it's been three weeks since my last confession.
DVD ReviewInitially, I had little interest in watching We're No Angels. From what I could discern, it merely seemed like yet another screwball comedy with cheap gags and little plot. However, when I discovered that the creative team boasted legendary actors Robert De Niro and Sean Penn in addition to profound screenwriter David Mamet, my curiosity heightened. Though I am giving the film a modest recommendation, it is primarily for a different reason than the contributions of the aforementioned participants. The real standout of We're No Angels is the fantastic visual design. For a genre that I often find looks dull and uninspired, this is quite honestly one of the most visually splendid comedies I have seen. Even so, while the film is a wonder to look at, it never quite reaches its comedic potential.
The story takes place in 1939, when two convicts (Robert De Niro and Sean Penn) escape from prison only to find themselves quickly pursued by the warden and his guards. Upon reaching a small town near the Canadian border, the criminals are mistaken for two missing priests who were to take part in a local holy procession. They take advantage of this situation by posing as men of the cloth so they can participate in the holy procession that will lead them from the United States into newfound freedom in Canada.
We're No Angels is a remake of the 1955 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Aldo Ray. While I have not seen the original, I found it interesting that De Niro and Penn seemed to be attempting to mimic the flamboyant acting styles often seen in comedic films of the 1940s and 1950s. While their performances do lend an aura that is reminiscent of classic cinema, this device ultimately feels a bit awkward within a more modern production. Nevertheless, the consummate actors still offer fantastic performances that, while somewhat hammy, are a joy to observe. De Niro often got a chuckle out of me just from his quirky facial expressions. Also here are several excellent supporting performances, including a pensive performance from Hoyt Axton, as well as delightful appearances by the always entertaining John C. Reilly and Wallace Shawn.
The biggest irony of We're No Angels is the lackluster screenplay by David Mamet, a playwright who typically pens eloquent and fascinating words. For this film, Mamet has instead created an abundance of moronic characters with uninteresting dialogue. I am uncertain if Sean Penn's bumbling sermon near the end of the film was intended to be comedic or dramatic, but either way, it is silly and unimpressive. Furthermore, Mamet's one-note plot offers very little character development. As a result, the story never leads anywhere and gave me nothing to ponder when it was over. Of course, a good comedy need not possess much more than hearty jokes, which are evident, yet too few and far between.
The laughs generated in We're No Angels are strong, yet I am disappointed that the film failed to consistently deliver the level of humor that was apparent in the second act. I am recommending the film, however, based on the solid performances and stunning visual style. It is no surprise that director Neil Jordan went on to direct the also aesthetically impressive Interview with the Vampire and The Crying Game. These artistic visuals may feel awkward in a comedic picture, but the cinematic compositions are still mesmerizing to behold.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image transfer is a pleasant surprise. Thanks to a marvelous restoration job, this 1989 film looks as good as, if not better than, many modern releases. The entire image is clear with virtually no hint of video noise. Edge enhancement is evident but surprisingly subdued, even when a black object appears against a white background. While the color palette is drab and somewhat antiseptic, it has been beautifully rendered in accordance with the filmmakers' intentions. If I had to nit-pick, my only complaints would be that the image occasionally appears soft and slightly wanting in detail. Additionally, there is a minor lack of shadow delineation in darker scenes. Overall, this is a tremendous transfer of a 15 year old film.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The newly created 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, while not as impressive as the image transfer, is an admirable achievement. Fidelity is fairly thin, sounding somewhat top heavy and tinny with the music. The music does, however, fill the soundstage nicely with adequate blend throughout the surround channels. Bass presence is rather tame, yet ample low end is delivered from the music, and I detected rather powerful LFE from the ending waterfall sequence. Though nothing dazzling, this remastered soundtrack is better than I had expected.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Extras Review: English subtitles are the only offering.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsWe're No Angels exceeded my expectations, if only slightly, in nearly every facet. Though the comedic level of the film could have been greater, the visual structure is quite impressive and beautifully rendered in this fine anamorphic widescreen image transfer. While it is a shame that there are no special features to complement this release, We're No Angels will still make a good rental for those looking to see an above average comedy.
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