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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Angie,'Thy Name Is Geena

March 04, 1994|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Stardom is a ladder with many rungs, and "Angie" (citywide) announces Geena Davis' arrival at the top. An unapologetic star vehicle whose every moment is crafted to showcase her various abilities, this is as much a coronation as a motion picture, a trumpet call to the world insisting that attention be paid.

It's not that Davis, always a fluid, engaging actress, has lacked for attention up to now. "The Accidental Tourist" won her an Oscar, "Thelma & Louise" earned a second nomination and "A League of Their Own" was a considerable hit. But while those were roles the actress took hold of and made her own, "Angie" is a part specifically tailored to demonstrate what she can do.

And as Ms. Scacciapensieri, a feisty Italian American resident of the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn whose unexpected pregnancy brings on the usual journey of self-discovery, Davis gets to do a lot. She laughs and cries, talks dirty and acts sexy, lashes out in anger and whispers in repentance. Plus she wears big earrings and participates in an unusually hectic delivery room scene that is the film's comic centerpiece.

Judged as a vehicle to display Davis' talent, "Angie" can't be faulted, and neither can the actress's pumped-up performance as a woman in the process of harnessing her emotional strength. Brash and irresistible, Davis is as assured as she's ever been, displaying a believable Brooklyn accent and taking every advantage of the scenes laid on for her specific pleasure.

When "Angie" is considered apart from its lead performance, however, the results are much more mixed. As directed by Martha Coolidge ("Rambling Rose") and written by Todd Graff from a novel by Avra Wing, "Angie" is too much the standard women's picture, overloaded with a laundry list of uninspired soap-opera dilemmas.

Abandoned at age 3 by a free-spirited mother she's never heard from or forgotten, Angie, in her early 30s, is a Brooklyn working woman whose life has settled into a not unpleasant routine. She and best friend Tina (the feisty Aida Turturro) spend their days working in Manhattan. At night Angie goes to movies like "Cliffhanger" with the good-hearted Vinnie (James Gandolfini), a plumber who's been her boyfriend since ninth grade.

But when Angie finds herself pregnant, very little stays the same. Vinnie, a stand-up guy, is ecstatic and eager for an immediate wedding, but Angie is not sure she wants to get married at all. Her pregnancy has brought to the surface a raft of discontents--submerged dissatisfactions with her father (Philip Bosco), her meddling stepmother (Jenny O'Hara), even poor dare-to-be-average Vinnie.

Like any fairy-tale heroine, Angie is destined for other things. And another man. During a daring daylight visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she attracts the notice of Noel ("The Crying Game's" Stephen Rea), a smooth Irishman who knows lots about art and ballet and isn't above sharing his knowledge with the forthright Angie.

Though Noel turns out to have a few wrinkles of his own, he is symptomatic of where "Angie" misfires. Even as fine an actor as Rea can't make something involving out of his stock character, the fantasy boyfriend, is-he-too-good-to-be-true division. And just about every situation Angie finds herself in is similarly schematic.

Whether it's worrying about commitment and the demands of motherhood or making jokes about vibrators and gynecological exams, all of Angie's actions seem to come off some grand checklist of required female-friendly plot elements, there because they have to be, not because they fit.

And though the performances of Davis and Turturro and the writing behind their characters' wit go a ways to keep things lively, "Angie" ends up feeling like "Cliffhanger" in drag, a mechanical piece of work set in motion to push the buttons in women the way that the over-amped Sly Stallone vehicle tries to do for men.

'Angie'

Geena Davis: Angie

Stephen Rea: Noel

James Gandolfini: Vinnie

Aida Turturro: Tina

Philip Bosco: Frank

Jenny O'Hara: Kathy

A Morra-Brezner-Steinberg-Tenenbaum production, in association with Caravan Pictures, released by Hollywood Pictures. Director Martha Coolidge. Producers Larry Brezner, Patrick McCormick. Executive producers Joe Roth, Roger Birnbaum. Screenplay Todd Graff, based on the novel by Avra Wing. Cinematographer Johnny E. Jensen. Editor Steven Cohen. Costumes Jane Robinson. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Mel Bourne. Art director Gae S. Buckley. Set decorator Etta Leff. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

MPAA rating: R for "language." Times guidelines: a graphic scene of childbirth.

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