Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 1996 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // May 27th, 2011
Believe in the power of another.
Ashe (Vincent Perez, Queen of the Damned) and his son are murdered by crime lord Judah (Richard Brooks, The Hidden) and his gang of thugs. One year later, he rises from the dead to avenge their deaths and set the wrong things right. Guided by a mystical crow, he sets about his journey, only to have his mission complicated when he falls in love with Sarah (Mia Kirshner, Exotica), a tattoo artist who experienced the power of the crow first hand in the original film.
The Crow: City of Angels is an unfortunate sequel. Unfortunate in that it follows up one of the most successful and iconic comic book adaptations of all time. Unfortunate in that its lead, French-born actor Vincent Perez, is forced to stand in the shadow of Brandon Lee (Laser Mission), whose electrifying, breakout performance as the first Crow was cut short during the filming of the original. Unfortunate in that, despite the best efforts the filmmakers, cast, and crew, it just plain sucks.
It isn't for a lack of trying. For everything the sequel does wrong, it does a lot right.
For one thing, it tries to up the ante in most cases. Ashe returns to avenge the death of his son, rather than a fiancé, giving his mission some more dramatic heft. Sarah, a proactive love interest, makes him question his mission, crafting a tragic romance that forces the vigilante killer to choose love or vengeance. Finally, the grimy, futuristic Los Angeles, as crafted by freshmen director Tim Pope and returning production designer Alex McDowell (Watchmen), proves an even more unforgiving landscape than original film's Detroit slums. It's a beautiful, gothic metropolis slathered in hallucinogenic candy colors and dead urban sprawl. It's a hazy, dying city that really sells the idea it is run by psychopathic, occult worshiping drug dealers.
Yet these elements, while ambitious and admirable, fail to make a good film on their own. It's all gorgeously directed by Pope, who keeps his camera agile and appropriately off-kilter, but it never ever gels. Part of the problem is in the casting. Vincent Perez is just plain wrong for the film. I like the guy and physically he's a perfect fit for the mime-faced anti-hero, but his grasp of English just isn't there. He can speak it for sure, but his inflection is incredibly inconsistent, making his acid one-liners and heartfelt monologues incredibly awkward. Said dialogue demands the actor hit the notes of rage, guilt, and romance with a precision that just isn't there. As Sarah, Mia Kirshner picks up some of his slack with a memorably melancholy, low-key performance. She has genuine chemistry with Perez, but there's never quite enough of her in the film for my taste.
The film's villains are equally inconsistent. Iggy Pop (Cry Baby) and Thomas Jane (The Mist) give standout performances as a psychopath and a pervert, respectively, while Vincent Castellanos (Anaconda) and Thuy Trang (Spy Hard) fail to sell themselves as a drug addict and hit woman, respectively. As Judah, their leader, Richard Brooks gives a chilling performance made memorable by his silky, deep bass voice, but is too thinly written to be anything more than a stereotypical, sociopathic drug lord. He has no code of honor, no vulnerabilities, and nothing to make him remotely human. Judah is carried by the magnetism of Richard Brooks, nothing more.
If the film wasn't a sequel to The Crow, Judah's crew would combine for a passable set of villains, however, when compared to the sick menagerie populating the first film (led by Strange Day's Michael Wincott as their impeccably charismatic leader), they pale in comparison. The Crow was a lightning in a bottle film in many ways, but what elevated it above the usual vigilante film was its finely crafted villains. Each had their own set of quirks and vulnerabilities that made them stand out and allowed Eric Draven a weakness to exploit. Through finely crafted dialogue and pitch perfect casting the film had three dimensional villains that stayed with you long after you'd watched the movie. The Crow: City of Angels has a group of villains you could just as easily transplant into Dolph Lundgren film or a Shane Black knockoff -- generic, uncharismatic, and unlikeable.
Yet they aren't only weakly written aspect of the film. The script by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins and co-writer of the original) is crafted as an antithesis to the first sequel, heavier on character exploration and lighter on over-the-top action set pieces. Ashe's action scenes are more intimate than his predecessors, free of henchman dispatching John Woo histrionics but with more emphasis on the cold, brutal, one-on-one act of murder. While I appreciate his effort to distance the story from the original film, the decision is destined to fail. Structurally it follows the original film too closely, a formula that was driven by fast-paced action. As a byproduct, City of Angels never really knows if it wants to be a melancholy character drama or an introspective revenge film. The Crow was both and a damn fine action movie, while the action scenes of Angels fizzle out far too quickly, buffered by poorly written banter and a throbbing alternative/metal soundtrack.
The Blu-ray is a shoddy showing from Echo Bridge. The film has been cropped into a 1.78.1 1080i transfer that leaves a lot to be desired. There's noticeable edge enhancement and very little detail, though colors look consistently good. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally underwhelming, aggressively channeling blaring effects and music that too often overpower the film's dialogue. There are no extras, an especially lazy choice given the fact the film has been released in an extended version with featurettes and commentaries under Dimension's Collector's Series line. If you have the film on DVD already, I would consider holding onto it, unless you are a rabid Crow fan who absolutely cannot live without the film on Blu-ray.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R