Few actors could make this work, considering the elements on display: the community center in trouble, the angry man in the wheelchair who learns the power of friendship, the quaint love story, the schemer struggling to reform, etc. But Hogan sure knows how to write for himself (and for wife Linda Kozlowski, who costars with him once more), and he makes "Almost an Angel" a comedy not about schmaltz, but about how fun it is to watch a leathery guy like Hogan amble his way toward nice guy-ness.
Terry Dean (Hogan) is a professional thief so professional that he's essentially worked his way out of the business; cops know his handiwork, and he knows he'd be the first Usual Suspect for every crime in town. Upon leaving prison, he opts to retire from burglary - yet he can't quite shake the crime bug, so he turns to bank robbery instead. (His new M.O.: disguise himself as celebrities, leaving the tellers to remark how Willie Nelson just held them up.)
But his new career is cut short when he's hit by a car while saving a boy's life. In the hospital, he dreams (or does he?) he's in heaven, talking to God (a cameo so perfectly cast I dare not spoil it here). After getting called a "scumbag" by the Lord Almighty, Terry receives an offer: return to Earth as an "angel on probation," help as many people as he can, then maybe we'll see about this whole getting into heaven thing.
Is Terry really an angel? Does it matter? He's soon busy helping others any way he can - which usually means deceit and thievery. (He holds up a fast food joint to get lunch for the homeless.) Eventually, he befriends Steve (Elias Koteas), a bitter, handicapped young man who's mad at the world, but lightens up when Terry's around. This leads Terry to Steve's sister, Rose (Kozlowski), which paves the way for a gentle romance.
There's really not much to "Angel." Most of the film is devoted to tender moments between these three characters, who sometimes talk about God but mostly just discover just how they all are for each other, in a cozy familial sense. Terry also hangs out with the kids of the center, which offer breezy, charming interludes that don't really go anywhere, but then again, they don't need to. Here, the film is one big exercise in quaintness.
Things fizzle when the screenplay tries to squeeze in subplots involving detectives hunting for Terry and Terry's schemes to convince a potential donor to invest big in the center - not to mention the clumsy finale that becomes a major bummer right before it goes too far into sentimental rubbish territory. But the charm Hogan brings to the picture is astounding, and he pulls big laughs from tiny moments. "Angel" is a film that makes us smile even when we're not sure we should. It breaks down our cynicism and finds our heartstrings, and with Hogan at the reins, we don't mind the tug.
"Almost an Angel" arrives on disc as part of Legend Films' recent collection of vintage Paramount titles.
Video & Audio
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1, approximating the film's original 1.85:1 format) transfer reveals some light grain in spots, most notable during nighttime scenes. It's otherwise just fine, with nice colors and no digital interference. The Dolby stereo soundtrack is equally serviceable, crisp and clear but nothing fancy. No subtitles are provided.
The charm is infectious, overwhelming the flaws of the story, yet there's little here that invites repeat viewing. Rent It.