Remember when movie producers thought that all we wanted to watch were Robin Hood romps (1991), Columbus flicks (1992) and dumb-ass comedies (last year)? Well, once again America's timid moguls are roaming in packs, with "angel movies" (along with Shakespeare adaptations and disaster flicks) the new big thing. Why? Last month saw Denzel Washington don the shining hoop to save Whitney Houston's church in The Preacher's Wife; Ewan McGregor is about to run into seraphim in Danny Boyle's A Life Less Ordinary; and now even John Travolta is doing the wing thing.
At first glance, Michael has a lot going for it. Sleepless In Seattle's Ephron siblings are in charge; Travolta's the star de jour; and William Hurt and Bob Hoskins are in support. Even Andie MacDowell, not the most gifted of actresses, has a proven track record in romantic comedy (well, she was tolerable in Four Weddings). US audiences liked the sound of the film too - Michael shot straight into the number-one spot over there, taking $63 million in its first three weeks. Travolta's post-Pulp Fiction career continues to look unstoppable.
But then you see the film, and you wonder if they have word of mouth in America. God alone knows how this boiled sweet of a movie succeeded.
Okay, there are some moments to raise Michael out of purgatory. Travolta strolls through the film with the same lazy charm that he oozed in Phenomenon - his Archangel Michael is irresistible to women, smells of freshly-baked Hob-Nobs and is entertaining enough as he jokes, smokes and pokes his way across middle America. And there are some chucklesome interludes, including his quaintly Vic 'n' Bob-like headbutting of a charging bull in a field near the World's Biggest Ball Of Twine.
But, oh dear, the rest of it. Like an old car on a frosty morning, Michael is a tardy starter. To flog a metaphor, once it finally gets going, it motors along promisingly for half-an-hour or so, then suddenly conks out, never to move again. Much of the blame must be laid at the door of the Ephron sisters - like Sleepless In Seattle, Michael is soft-centred and dawdling where it should be inventive and pacy, never managing to become the neat story it wants to be. Indeed, after 45 minutes, its only plus-point - Travolta's one-man angel show - gives way to a Hurt-MacDowell romance which, to be brutally frank, it's impossible to give a toss about. And when you eventually find out that Michael's secret mission on earth is to (ah) bring MacDowell and Hurt together, those last wispy vestiges of interest evaporate and vanish (Hoskins, in case you're interested, is limited to a trumped-up bit part.)
The most remarkable thing about the whole venture, then, is that Travolta can cruise through the dross, star power undiminished. On all other levels (even technically - you can see the mic in some shots, not to mention a large white sheet flapping above the roof of the car during the driving sequences), Michael is a huge disappointment. Angels may have wings, but so do turkeys.
Travolta delivers a passable performance as a sort of toothsome messiah type, but this is a soft-centred, soft-brained movie - Phenomenon with wings. Don't expect any of the "angel road movie" giggles the film promises, either - - plot potential founders very early on, and the whole thing mutates into a painfully tepid romance.