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'The Crow': Sequel Justice

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 31, 1996

The specter of 1994's "The Crow" necessarily hangs over its sequel, "The Crow: City of Angels." After all, its star, Brandon Lee, was accidentally shot to death as one of the final scenes was being filmed. Thanks to some computer-generated magic, the film, adapted from James O'Barr's wildly popular graphic novel and comics, was completed and became one of the year's major hits.

O'Barr is not involved in "City of Angels," but he's not betrayed by it. Writer David S. Goyer has taken O'Barr's basic concept -- a mythical bird brings innocent tortured souls back from beyond so they can avenge their deaths -- and widened it. Lee's character, Eric Draven, had accomplished his purposeful and personal revenge and gone back to his grave. Goyer assumes that it was the process, not the individual, that was central to the concept, that the Crow is a force, not a character. This theory also allows great latitude for new incarnations.

Still, there's no sense in pushing that particular envelope too soon: The new vengeful spirit, Ashe (Swiss actor Vincent Perez) is a live ringer for Lee, particularly once he dons the classic pained-Pierrot look. Comparisons may be unfair, but while Perez isn't quite the physical presence Lee was, he does cut an imposing figure and his anguish is a bit more palpable.

Goyer wisely centers the source of Ashe's rage in another tragedy. Where Eric Draven returned to avenge the murder of himself and his girlfriend, Ashe and his 8-year-old son (Eric Acosta) are victims of a coldblooded assassination after witnessing a drug-related killing ordered by the evil Judah (Richard Brooks of "Law & Order"). The ultimate process is familiar, as Ashe first works his way through Judah's henchmen and henchwomen (who include punk rock's living exposed nerve, Iggy Pop, and Mighty Morphin Power Ranger Thuy Trang), guiding them to their deaths with dark humor and genuine rage.

The connector between the two "Crow" films is the narrator-witness, Sarah (Mia Kirshner). In the original she was a child befriended by the Dravens; this time around, all grown up and living in the post-apocalyptic City of Angels, she is troubled by premonitory nightmares -- hardly surprising, since she's obsessed with Crow myths and works in a tattoo parlor (her own back is tattooed with wings). Death is her lover, and the script at one point toys with the notion of a romance with the departed Ashe (whose spirit is willing, as apparently is his flesh). Ultimately, that taboo, which makes resurrection possible, remains untouched.

All this is served up in highly stylized form by rock-video veteran and first-time director Tim Pope, who seems to have embraced Ashe's mantra, "My power is my pain." Production designer Alex McDowell (the only returnee from "The Crow") has created a postmodern urban landscape that could well be a circle of Dante's Hell. It's a city not of angels but of living nightmares, an abandoned shell full of smog, haze and otherworldly graffiti. Fueled by a perpetual grimness of night, shadows and silhouettes, it's a place where the sun don't shine, hauntingly captured by cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier and composer Graeme Revell.

As did its predecessor, "City of Angels" also features a soundtrack that's equal parts industrial noise and hard rock: Thick sonic textures burble under the action. The only irritating element is an overabundance of leather bondage imagery and sado-masochistic incidents.

Ashe's revenge is played out in conjunction with the annual Day of the Dead festival, which makes for a balletic finale and a further expansion of O'Barr's original concepts. Fans of both O'Barr's source inspiration and Brandon Lee's initial embodiment may want to nit-pick, but this "Crow" has something to crow about.

The Crow: City of Angels, at area theaters, is rated R for violence, nudity and strong language.

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