Directed by Nora Ephron. Starring John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt, Bob Hoskins, Robert Pastorelli, Jean Stapleton, Teri Garr. (1996, PG, 105 min.)

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 27, 1996

Last time we checked in with comeback kid John Travolta he was channeling the powers of higher intelligence in the crypto-spiritual barnstormer Phenomenon. Gossamer fuzz similarly shrouds his follow-up film Michael, in which Travolta appears as an archangel returned to earth to meddle in the affairs of human beings. This kind of angel stuff is classic Hollywood fare, especially at Christmastime. Thus, it's all the more wonder that director Nora Ephron has missed and mishandled so many of her cues. Michael finds Ephron recycling bits and pieces of her previous movies: the casting of a holiday assortment of Mixed Nuts and the sweet belief in the predestination of lovers as in Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally…. The best thing about Michael winds up being Travolta himself. As always, he delivers a magnetic performance and, as has become de rigueur, Travolta dances. And in that one dance sequence, Travolta lifts this sodden angel tale into a truly magical realm. Also good is the performance of William Hurt whose bemused diffidence as a jaded tabloid reporter shows signs of someone actually working to create a believable character. The script (which is credited to four writers: Ephron, her sister Delia Ephron, Pete Dexter, and Jim Quinlan) suffers from thin plotting and lame set-ups. Audiences are likely to react badly to the movie's disappointing pay-offs. Hurt and sidekick Pastorelli play two cynical tabloid reporters from Chicago, Frank Quinlan (there's that name again) and Huey Driscoll, who land an assignment to go to Iowa and follow-up on a report of an angel. Sent to accompany them is “angel expert” Dorothy Winters (MacDowell). Travolta plays the angel Michael, whose mission here is also to be his last visit on earth and he intends to enjoy every minute. (Angels, he explains, are only allowed 26 visits, a curious and unexplained fact that is an example of the kind of extraneous detail that the movie allows us too much free time to explore.) Michael's hook is that he is not a stereotypical angel. He is an earthy figure who is an unkempt, beer-swilling, Beatles-quoting skirt-chaser. Part of his heavenly power is that he exerts a raw magnetism over all women who stray into his path. His mission is to bring together the movie's two squabbling stars, Quinlan and Dorothy, who need divine intervention to realize on their own that they are the two stars of the movie and, therefore, must fall in love. Lacking any real chemistry, however, it is easy to see why these two might miss the point. The whole movie is constructed with a similar kind of disinterested pallor. It's a good thing this archangel Michael comes to earth sporting his own wings. Those ungainly flappers will at least will spare him the indignity of being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. (Opens 12/25)

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Michael, Nora Ephron, John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt, Bob Hoskins, Robert Pastorelli, Jean Stapleton, Teri Garr

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