THE FOURTH ANGEL directed by John Irvin, written by Allan Scott from the novel by Robin Hunter, produced by Scott and Peter R. Simpson, with Jeremy Irons, Forest Whitaker, Charlotte Rampling and Jason Priestley. 95 minutes. A Norstar Entertainment/Rafford Films production. An Artisan release. Opens Friday (January 25). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 76. Rating: NN
casting jeremy irons as the star of an action movie is rather like casting Bruce Willis as the Queen Mum.Yet here he is in a thriller, playing a journalist who loses his family in a terrorist incident. When governments fail to bring the perpetrators to justice, he decides to go after them himself.
Irons is actually not the picture's principal problem. A rote actioner, it would have gone straight to video had it not been for September 11. Somebody does something horrible, the survivor most affected goes after them... it's Death Wish with really posh accents.
There are momentary pleasures, including the scenes between Irons and Charlotte Rampling as an MI6 operative, and those between Forest Whitaker's brash FBI agent and the English cops he's supposedly assisting. However, the central relationship between Whitaker and Irons doesn't work, because John Irvin, a versatile director (Turtle Diary and The Dogs Of War are his best films), never gets their acting styles to mesh.
They have a long, key scene in which their failure to connect seems to have less to do with the characters than with the incompatibility of Irons's anguished reserve and Whitaker's emotional openness. These actors don't belong in the same picture.
Then there are the ugly little visual glitches that smell of producer interference. During the airport battle, there are repeated inserts of a close-up of a machine gun firing. It doesn't match up with the rest of the scene and has the trademark obviousness that producer Peter Simpson (Prom Night) has brought to numerous bad tax-shelter movies. He doesn't trust the audience to recognize machine gun fire without seeing the gun.
Like most bad action movies, this one isn't really about anything. It has a handful of fashionable themes but nothing interesting to say about them. There are better ways to waste 95 minutes of your life.JHjohnh@nowtoronto.com