What if you took It's a Wonderful Life and replaced George Bailey with a scruffy Parisian con man and swapped Henry Travers' doddering guardian angel for the half-naked chick with the $10 million pasties from Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale? You'd wind up in the humid imagination of La Femme Nikita writer-director Luc Besson. In this amiably inconsequential fairy tale, one-armed Moroccan-born comic Jamel Debbouze (Days of Glory) draws on his sawed-off, scrappy charm as a quick-talking, Brooklyn-based loser who's about to jump into the Seine to avoid his gambling debts when suddenly a literal suicide blonde (Rie Rasmussen) materializes on the same bridge. When the leggy sprite and her companion aren't wandering a desolate, neon-flecked City of Lights—shot in silvery black-and-white—the portentously named Angela (geddit?) throws roundhouse kicks in a bid to restore her man's latent decency. Is she the director's muse? Is ex-pat Debbouze's love-hate relationship with Paris symbolic of Besson's own tenuous position in Gaulywood, where he functions as a kind of Gallic Jerry Bruckheimer? There's little beyond the surface-deep pleasures of this talky, balky, strangely subdued distaff riff on Wings of Desire, although the knockabout pairing of the raffish Debbouze and the gawky Rasmussen provides ungainly sweetness. But the loony grand passion and profligate imagination of Besson's sci-fi whatsit The Fifth Element are sorely missed.
Rasmussen as heavenly adviser to Debbouze.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., June 22. Rated R. 90 minutes.