Dir: Luis Mandoki. US 2001. 115 mins.

A muddled blend of a supernatural thriller, romantic melodrama, and urban police-crimer, Angel Eyes, Jennifer Lopez' latest disappointing star vehicle, tries to do too much to little effect. Lifting a number of ideas and characters from Ghost and City Of Angels, this predictable, schmaltzy picture pairs the luminously beautiful Lopez with up-and-comer Jim Caviezel as two big city misfits in desperate need of each other. Obviously the star's fans prefer to see her in romantic comedies: Angel Eyes opened to a modest $9 million, compared to The Wedding Planner, which, wretched as it was, generated $13.5m in its first weekend and went on to amass more than $60m, box-office that the new picture can only dream about.

In the first scene, Chicago police officer, Sharon Pogue (Lopez) is trying desperately to save a family trapped in a terrible car crash. The results of her efforts remain unknown, but the assumption is that one member has survived. The tale then jumps ahead to a year later, showing Sharon's routine activities in Chicago's mean streets with her long-time partner and friend (Terrence Howard). Assigned to a high-crime district in the city's South Side, the job puts her in danger on a daily basis.

Sharon's story is intercut with that of Catch (Caviezel), a mysterious stranger, who, very much in the manner of Nicolas Cage in City Of Angels, is an angelic creature who protects ordinary people with good deeds. An odd, homeless person, Catch is indifferent to the reactions his conduct elicits - he moves through the harsh landscape in a kind of blank daze.

Regrettably, Angel Eyes is framed with a silly fateful spirituality. The central couple is composed of seemingly unlikely individuals who cross paths under life-threatening circumstances and are destined to save each other's lives not once but twice. As Sharon and Catch fall in love, they're forced to share more candidly and deal more honestly with secrets from their pasts.

Tough and uncompromising, Sharon is a superb cop, committed to do the right thing regardless of the cost involved. Indeed, early on, it's established that Sharon had caused the arrest of her own father (Victor Argo) for a repeated abuse of her mother (Sonia Braga). And later, Sharon urges her frightened sister-in-law to press charges against her own husband (Jeremy Sisto), when he follows in the footsteps of Sharon's father.

Sharon has no personal life: estranged from her family for years, she's also disconnected from life in general. For a while, the script is effective in portraying a woman who took a strong position against her dad, for which she continues to pay a high price. What triggers Sharon's moral crisis is the news that her parents are planing a party to celebrate the renewal of their wedding vows- to which she hasn't been invited.

All too similarly, Catch also lives a half-life. A haunted soul, he sleeps in an empty apartment, spending his time dispensing gifts of goodwill to anyone in need. Catch is in denial, trying to escape the pain of losing his family, but the traumatic experience has triggered in him an appreciation for the preciousness of life - his acts of kindness derive from that awakening. Twice a week, Catch delivers groceries to a disabled woman, Elanora (Shirley Knight), with whom he exchanges the same light banter. Elanora has learned not to ask him any private questions and he now expects the same from Sharon.

Those familiar with Mexican director Luis Mandoki's previous films will not be surprised by the film's excessive sentimentality. In Message In A Bottle, which was also written by Gerald Dipego, Kevin Costner played a similar role: an inconsolably bereaved man still lamenting his wife's death. Focusing on the conflict between isolation and connection, Angel Eyes tells the same story in a different setting.

The film's reach out and touch message may be fitting for the therapeutic, self-help ideology of the Oprah show and countless other TV programmes. However, here, the harshness of the inner-city police yarn is deflated and negated by the unabashed softness and stillness of the rest of the film, whose focus on two damaged souls become relentless gloomy and unnecessarily tedious.

Angel Eyes is very much in the vein of Ghosts, City Of Angels, and Michael, supernatural stories in which ordinary humans are touched and changed by otherworldly forces. However, unlike these films which exhibited a certain charm, Angel Eyes seems to float in a limbo that's neither convincing in its realistic settings nor persuasive in its spiritual dimensions.

The film contains two particularly embarrassing sequences that call attention to the material's schematic and manipulative nature. When Sharon is ignored by her father at the celebration, she opts to talk to a video camera (while all her family is present) about her happier childhood. And when he finally steps out of a long denial and visits the cemetery, Catch bursts into an excruciatingly long and tearful monologue about how much he still loves and misses his family.

The talented Lopez and Caviezel (who here plays a similar role to the one in Frequency) are restricted by parts that call for intense but subdued interaction, where conversations are minimal and looks are maximal. Angel Eyes is the kind of film in which the heroine is so insecure and fearful of rejection that she can only speak to Catch through answering machines.

Pro coMorgan Creek and Franchise Pictures presentation of a Mark Canton production

US distWarner Bros.

Exec prodsAndrew Stevens, Neil Canton, Don Carmody

ProdsMark Canton and Elie Samaha

ScrGerald Dipego

CinematographerPiotr Sobocinski

Pro desDean Tavoularis

EdJerry Greenberg

MusicMarco Beltrami

Main castJennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel, Sonia Braga