Reviewed by: Nick Da Costa

Angels with assault weapons. High-concept manna from heaven, surely? After watching Scott Stewart’s frustrating mess, however, it beomes clear it is not as much of a sure thing as you would think.

When it comes to angels we’ve had everything from heartwarming Americana in It’s A Wonderful Life - one of many obvious references this movie throws up - the thoughtful meditations of Wings Of Desire, and the apocalyptic pulp of The Prophecy franchise.

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That last example had its initially intriguing premise stretched across five, increasingly terrible movies. Legion can barely piece together three Acts, let alone the franchise it wishes it were.

As mercifully brief as a bad sermon, the movie drops you into the plot faster than the Angel Michael's fall from grace - an irony fit for Milton, but wasted anyway in the dismal climax.

Finding himself in a grim and grimy LA where cops paraphrase Taxi Driver in their commentary on humanity’s sad decline, Michael (Paul Bettany) takes the sensible decision to slice off his wings - the ordeal one of the few interesting details, as it apparently releases him from his tenure as an Archangel. He then raids a nearby weapons cache and heads to an isolated diner, where a pregnant waitress holds the key to saving humanity from God’s wrath.

So far, so B-movie, and save for a bit of Thing-style shape-shifting devilry - the spidery form of the punningly-named ‘Frosty Treats’ ice-cream man, a genuine highlight - the thriller elements are, on the whole, so meagre and limply staged that the film is better seen as an examination of divinely dysfunctional families.

Mankind has disappointed God once again, and rather than send a flood or rain fiery death upon a sinful city-nation, he has decided to turn man against man. Oh, and fly against man. One of the many, along with naming the diner Paradise Falls, lazy references to the Bible this movie has to offer.

A brief examination of the motley group of characters barricaded in the diner, and you’re not all that surprised God is so pissed off. Each of them either a failed son, daughter or parent, and that’s really as deep as the characterisation gets, as once Michael arrives and lays out the portentous news, it’s a case of shifting the cast around for some cliché and laborious exchanges, while waiting for the next action sequence to begin.

Legion’s biggest crime is also it’s greatest asset and that’s Paul Bettany. He lends a huge amount of gravitas to material that’s tragically beneath him as an actor. One soliloquy on the difficulties of faith feels like it’s being delivered from another, far better movie entirely - the edit snapping you back to the leaden reality.

What’s most surprising is how competent Bettany is in the action sequences, coming off like a more urbane Terminator as he cuts down an amusingly broad spectrum of humanity, from truckers to grannies in bad knitwear. He seems just as comfortable with dual rifle, bazooka and makeshift flame-thrower as he is with the more theatrical, and befitting, sword and armour later in the film.

In contrast, you have an old hand like Dennis Quaid, chomping on the scenery and grimacing like the worst of hams. Lumped with the most remedial of soap opera moments, he’s pushed to the sidelines with a paltry one-liner, as sketchily drawn as the rest, including his son, the unfortunately named Jeep (Lucas Black), and his unrequited love, the aforementioned pregnant waitress, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki).

These two become the ostensible heart in this redneck rewrite of the Nativity that replaces gold, frankincense, and myrrh with cigarettes - Mary is less than chaste this time around - guns and the Angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand), who swoops down in a blaze of light and a honk of celestial horn to take on Michael in the climax.

What should be the battle royal, turns into a frustratingly brief, albeit entertaining, and, in the case of the performances from Bettany and Durand, almost potent, skirmish that really needs to spread its wings beyond the claustrophobic and dark confines of the diner. Like much of the action it’s as premature and poorly paced as Charlie’s pregnancy and even though it’s fitting to end the movie with a deus ex machina, it can’t hide the fact that it, like much of the movie, as the final line of dialogue reminds us, is bullshit.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2010
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A fallen angel tries to save humanity from the wrath of God.
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Director: Scott Stewart

Writer: Peter Schink, Scott Stewart

Starring: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, Charles S. Dutton, Kevin Durand, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kate Walsh, Dennis Quaid, Jeanette Miller, Cameron Harlow, Doug Jones, Josh Stamberg, Yancey Arias

Year: 2010

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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