'Angel-A' marks French filmmaker Luc Besson's return to directing after seven years - his last outing was 1999's 'The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc'. Since then he has been kept busy in a variety of writing and producing jobs, including recent futuristic action flick 'District 13' and the all-action 'Taxi' films. 'Angel-A', on the other hand, is a world away from the kinetic energy of those films, being nothing less than an overt homage to both 'Wings of Desire' and 'It's A Wonderful Life'.

Andre (Debbouze, a familiar face from 'Amélie' and 'Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra') is a small-time crook with big debts. With the local loan sharks (Melki and Riaboukine) on his back, the only way out he can see lies at the bottom of the Seine. While nerving himself up to do the deed he meets a tall, beautiful blonde on a similar mission. After Andre "saves" her, Angela (former model Rasmussen) declares that she'll help him sort things out, in a guardian angel kind of way.

'Angel-A' is most successful as a three-way love-in between Besson, his long-time cinematographer, Thierry Arbogast, and the city of Paris itself, portrayed here in moody, timeless black and white. Unfortunately the story is slight and runs out of steam long before the end of its 90 minutes. Besson mines as much humour as is possible from the physical inequalities between squat, sallow-skinned Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen's pale leggy-ness but there's also some genuine chemistry between this superbly ill-matched duo.

Although lovely to look at and with strong performances from the central couple, 'Angel-A' doesn't quite convince.

Caroline Hennessy