Screenplay : Peter Dexter, Jim Quinlan, Nora Ephron, and Delia Ephron
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : John Travolta (Michael), Andie MacDowell (Dorothy Winters), William Hurt (Frank Quinlan), Robert Pastorelli (Huey Driscoll), Bob Hoskins (Vartan Malt), Jean Stapleton (Pansy Milbank)
An angel who smokes, drinks, parties all night and has a libido larger than his wingspan? And, he's an archangel no less?
Obviously, this description paints a picture contrary to every theological concept of angels ever written, but that wasn't on the minds of Peter Dexter, Jim Quinlan, Nora Ephron and her sister, Delia Ephron, when they penned "Michael."
Despite John Travolta's charismatic and charming performance as the title angel, the movie is completely one-note. It's a concept movie from start to finish, with the concept being: what if we took every preconceived notion about angels and threw them out the window? An interesting premise, to be sure, but the problem with "Michael" is that it doesn't take that premise anywhere. The idea has merit and some good possibilities, but the follow-through is a shoddy mess. Actually, the movie isn't complicated enough to become a mess. It's too simplistic for its own good.
The plot involves three tabloid reporters, Frank Quinlan (William Hurt), Dorothy Winters (Andie McDowell), Huey Driscoll (Robert Pastorelli), and his wonderfully charming dog that happens to be more famous than he is. When the tabloid's editor, Vartan Malt (Bob Hoskins, the only other person besides Travolta who looks like he's having any fun), gets wind that an angel is living with an old woman in a motel in the middle of Iowa, he sends the three reporters on a road trip to check it out. I had always been under the impression that grocery store tabloids just made this stuff up on their word processors, but apparently not. They actually confirm their wild stories according to this movie.
Upon arriving at the motel of Pansy Milbank (Jeanne Stapleton), they are shocked to find the real thing in the form of an overweight, very hairy and very unkempt John Travolta with a seventies' style do reminiscent of the one he sported on "Welcome Back Kotter." Travolta's Michael smokes incessantly while slurping cereal out of a bowl like a field hand, dripping milk all over himself and everyone else. He quotes the Beatles instead of the Bible, and he knows a few slippery moves on the dance floor. The only things heavenly about him are his wondrous wings that always seem to be dropping feathers wherever he goes. While out in public, he hides the feathered beauties under a long trenchcoat, as if no one would notice the giant bulge in his back.
From there, the movie turns into a road trip with the three journalists driving Michael back to Chicago. At Michaels' demand, the trip includes stops at historic sights such as the World's Largest Frying Pan. This is Michael's last trip to earth (each angel is only allowed so many), so he wants to make sure he sees it all. Apparently he didn't think Heaven's streets of gold were too impressive.
Along the way, Michael astounds people with his uninhibited love of sweets ("You can never have too much sugar," he says), helps Hurt and McDowell fall in love, and beds down with a few ladies. Apparently, women are attracted to him because he smells like cookies. Michael is never actually shown doing the deed, and the most we get from an encounter is one hippie woman's voice from the other side of the wall: "Oh, far out, wings!"
However, we do get to see the progress of Hurt and McDowell's relationship, but it's even less involving that not seeing Michael have sex. Considering that Nora Ephron penned "When Harry Met Sally," one of the smartest and most intricately realistic studies of the male-female relationship ever committed to film, it's amazing that the romance in "Michael" falls so flat. I've found that the worth of a movie's script is usually inversely proportional to the number of screenwriters it has. "Michael" lists four, so you can see where that went. The original story and screenplay were written by Peter Dexter and Jim Quinlan, and then tinkered with by the Ephron sisters to little avail.
"Michael" has the beginnings of a good film, but it never musters the gumption to really go anywhere with its outrageous, theologically-incorrect ideas. Maybe some day this film will be remade with a better script, but I don't know if they'll be able to find an actor like John Travolta to fill the lead role. His performance almost makes this movie worthwhile, but in the end, not even he can save it from being simply average.
©1997 James Kendrick