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'Angel Heart'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 06, 1987

 


Director:
Alan Parker
Cast:
Mickey Rourke;
Lisa Bonet;
Robert De Niro;
Charlotte Rampling
R
Under 17 restricted


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SLEAZY, GREASY Mickey Rourke finally takes a bath. But it's a bloodbath, with Cosby kid Lisa Bonet as a mystifying mambo priestess inexplicably attracted to Rourke's soulless gumshoe. Blood cascades over the screaming couple as they frolic in the flow, happy as vampires in a bloodmobile.

Now that's entertainment. And to think that those persnickety fussbudgets at the ratings board wanted to excise a single moment of this, how-you-say, art from Alan Parker's "Angel Heart." Well, rest assured that only 10 seconds of the sanguine sex party was lost, and surely will be back in the cassette version for aficionados. No doubt there will be plenty of those.

"Angel Heart," with its stigmatic sets and satanic text, makes the perfect cult movie just as the Rev. Jones made the perfect batch of Kool-Aid. It already has assured itself a limited audience, as most moviegoers will be repulsed by the needless gore, including sudden open-heart surgery and assorted other murder-mutilations. The lot overwhelms this devilishly clever detective allegory, a supernatural variation on '50s pulp mysteries.

Director/writer Parker bases his post-WWII mystery on William Hjortsberg's novel "Falling Angel," setting the soul-searching story in Harlem and New Orleans. Parker is primarily concerned with combining genres, draining the color from the sets for a vintage Jack the Ripper look. While it has a sinister elegance, the movie is over-stylized, and we're over-stimulated when the soundtrack goes berserk, from a few thumpity-thumps to a visceral, ventricles a-pumping score.

As if Mickey Rourke weren't scary enough on his own. One of Hollywood's up-and-coming career degenerates, Rourke plays disheveled private detective Harry Angel, who is hired by a firm of lawyers named after apples (Macintosh and Winesap) to find a missing person for a client named Louis Cyphre.

Robert De Niro demonically overacts in the part of Cyphre, a natty dude with suspiciously long fingernails and a sulphur trail. (Curiously, De Niro's performance is billed as a special guest appearance, the sort of credit usually reserved for the Carol Burnett Show.) Cyphre asks Angel to find Johnny Favorite, who suffered amnesia during the war and had extensive plastic surgery before he disappeared.

Angel has been set a clever conundrum, that will lead him to a terrible self-awareness -- the Id again. His path is littered with visual clues, making this movie as much of a rebus as a riddle. And that, with the challenge of figuring out the names, makes the movie sometimes as fascinating as it is frightful. But despite all the occult patter and tony trimmings, "Angel Heart" is bogus -- only the bogeyman again.

Besides Rourke at his rancid best are Bonet, blissfully beautiful as she munches raw chickens like a carnival geek; Charlotte Rampling, eerie and sophisticated as the voodoo debutante; and a cast of well-chosen oddballs mixed with real folks. They all look kind of drained by the end. Especially the chickens. -- Rita Kempley. ANGEL HEART (R) -- At area theaters.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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