Starring: Michael Legge, Allen Leech, Amy Shiels, and David Murray
Director: David Gleeson
Writing Credits: David Gleeson
Distributor: TLA Releasing (US 2004)
Rated: Unrated

Becoming an adult is hard work. Just ask Shane (Michael Legge), the good-natured young man at the center of COWBOYS & ANGELS, a genial drama from Irish director David Gleeson (Hunted) that is both unaffected and unaffecting. Shane, caught somewhere between being a mama's boy and future husband material, is a good enough lad, and the same might be said of the film itself; pleasant and eager to please, Gleeson's coming-of-age tale never truly grips its audience or its potential. An odd mix of genres and messages, COWBOYS & ANGELS belongs to that cinematic breed of well-made dramedies that will float from your consciousness the moment you leave the theatre.

Gleeson's film begins as an odd-couple comedy, with Shane moving to Limerick City and meeting his new flatmate, a flamboyantly gay art school student named Vincent (Allen Leech). Shane, who is terminally straight, has never met anyone quite like Vincent, and you know what's coming next...a Queer Eye-ish makeover, lessons from the gays about how to pick up women, and a made-for-TV appeal to tolerance between the sexual orientations. It's as cute as a button, and as trite as you imagine. It just so happens that a girl Shane has his eye on, Gemma (Amy Shiels), is longtime friends with Vincent. Quelle coincidence.

Abruptly, however, COWBOYS & ANGELS takes an enormous left turn, and becomes a gritty crime drama. Shane meets Keith (David Murray), a drug dealer who offers a great deal of money in exchange for transporting a stash from Dublin to Limerick City. The sweet-as-sugar Shane falls in with the wrong crowd, and it's up to Vincent (who just happens to be virulently opposed to drug use) to save his straight (boy)friend from his own mistakes. You won't be surprised to learn that everything turns out poignant but okay in the end, will you?

There's nothing less than adequate about COWBOYS & ANGELS, nothing one can point to as the clear reason for its ephemereality. The performances are quite satisfactory; Legge (Angela's Ashes) is perfectly cast as Shane, effortlessly finding the right balance of adolescent angst and indefatigable perkiness. Irish TV veteran Leech does his absolute best with a character formed from gay clichés; without any apparent sex life or romance of his own, he falls into a long line of cinematic gay eunuchs whose sole concern is to help the heterosexuals clean up their lives. Shiels (Veronica Guerin), as the woman between them, has an icy veneer that is at odds with the bubbly silliness of her character. For his part, Gleeson's direction is calm, assured, and well paced.

No, the problem with COWBOYS & ANGELS is that, with mighty few exceptions, we've seen all of it before. For nearly a century, the cinema has been telling coming-of-age tales; Gleeson's film finds nothing substantially new to add to the discussion. Whether it is girl trouble, or drug trouble, or job trouble, or even gay-friend trouble, Shane's struggles have been told before, and by better storytellers. This doesn't make COWBOYS & ANGELS a waste of time, necessarily...there's always a place for tales (even oft-told ones) that are told well. But it does make the film a been-there, done-that experience. Without anything especially unique to the dramatic landscape -- it's neither especially Irish, nor especially urban -- Gleeson's film is a fleeting glimpse at a world we already know, a solid double in a game where home runs are the goal. It is more than is nearly good. But it is a film in search of a reason to exist.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2004 Mixed Reviews & the author. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Mixed Reviews or the author is prohibited.

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