Opened: Wednesday, December 25, 1996 | Rated: PG
There is one reason and one reason only to see "Michael" -- John Travolta plays a rebellious angel. If for you John Travolta alone isn't reason enough to see a movie, all you'll find in "Michael" are a few light laughs and an awful lot of get-on-with-it moments.
It's easy to see why Travolta took this departure role as the Archangel Michael who returns to Earth for a last hurrah -- he's the only interesting character in the story. From his entrance -- in nothing but boxer shorts, scratching his beer gut, smoking and quite hung over -- Travolta carries the film with a sly, witty performance. Michael is out for a good time and Travolta plays him full of joy and mischief.
So when two tabloid reporters (William Hurt and Andie MacDowell), sent to Iowa to get his story, quiz Michael about his unholy mannerisms, he says with a wicked wink, "You were expecting halos? Inner light? I'm not that kind of angel."
He's been living in the home of a widow (the scene-stealing Jean Stapleton) who wrote about him to the tabloid, run by heavily accented Bob Hoskins in a role obviously meant to ape publishing and broadcast magnate Rupert Murdoch.
These first scenes trade on the surprise of finding an angel, wings and all, who is so wholly unholy. The best laughs in the film come in these first 20 minutes before the reporters convince Michael to travel to their offices in Chicago. The film then becomes a road trip movie a la "Rain Man," with the oddball passenger holding the reigns.
Michael insists they travel off the beaten track so he can see America, and as a result they stumble into minor adventures, bond with each other and, of course, the reporters begin to fall in love.
Directed by Nora Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle"), the movie is burdened by her tiresome trademarks. The cutesy antagonism between the lovers gets old fast, as does the pop soundtrack piping in a different tune for nearly every scene.
"Michael" has its moments, but there's a lot of waiting in between. There are several scenes that I'm sure sounded great on paper but fell apart in the execution. Michael has a catnip-like power over women that comes off feeling a little misogynistic, and his penchant for battle (he starts a bar room brawl and butts heads with a bull) plays like a Three Stooges sight gag.
Travolta rises above it all by continuing to laugh and indulge Michael in every Earthly pleasure (remember -- he's not that kind of angel). But he's the only one who plays his role to the hilt. MacDowell is typecast as a man-weary fuss-budget and does nothing to expand on the part. Hurt is his usual quietly passionate man of integrity.
By the time they get to Chicago, Michael's time on Earth is about up. When Travolta exits about ten minutes before the end, the film deflates like a balloon.
For Travolta fans, "Michael" really is a must see. He's as good here as he has been in anything since his comeback. But take him away and the movie is a snore.