Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 13, 2020)
After TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter made him a teen idol, 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and 1978’s Grease turned John Travolta into a major movie star. This didn’t last long, as by 1980’s heavily hyped commercial disappointment Urban Cowboy, the bloom left the rose.
Travolta got a second chance when he starred in 1994’s seminal hit Pulp Fiction. Restored to stardom, Travolta made 1996’s Michael one of his first post-Pulp efforts.
Frank Quinlan (William Hurt) and Huey Driscoll (Robert Pastorelli) work as reporters for a tabloid based in Chicago. They write about all sorts of absurd phenomenon, so when they hear claims that the Archangel Michael lives with an old woman in Iowa, they head out to get the presumably phony story.
Unlike all their other reports, though, this one turns out to be true, as Michael (Travolta) indeed resides with elderly Pansy Milbank, (Jean Stapleton). Along with “angel expert” Dorothy Winters (Andie MacDowell), they document this discovery.
Though Michael doesn’t seem awfully angelic, as he drinks, smokes and pursues sexual companionship. As the reporters and Dorothy get to know Michael, they discover more surprises along the way.
As I went into this review, I prepared to discuss Michael as one of Travolta’s career missteps. After Pulp Fiction, I thought Travolta appeared in only two successful flicks before his bad choices harpooned him again: 1995’s Get Shorty and 1997’s Face/Off.
Commercially, this memory proved incorrect, as Travolta enjoyed a few other hits like 1999’s General’s Daughter - and Michael. Though I thought the latter flopped at the box office, it actually pulled in a pretty tidy $119 million worldwide.
I suspect my opinion of the film itself colored my recollections. As I recall, I loathed Michael when I saw it theatrically, and I guess that hatred caused me to think that the movie bombed financially.
Michael did get lousy reviews, so at least critics agreed with me. More than two decades later, I felt curious to watch the movie again and determine if my 1990s scorn held true in 2020.
Yup. Basically a schmaltzy, less clever variation on National Lampoon’s Vacation, Michael turns into a dud of epic proportions.
When one discusses films that completely waste their talent, Michael enters the running for that “prize”. With Travolta, Hurt, MacDowell and others in front of the camera and Nora Ephron behind it, the film boasts a strong pedigree, but it never turns into anything more than painful schlock.
Michael possesses maybe five minutes of actual plot, and it stretches that material to 105 minutes of nonsense – awful, miserable nonsense at that. Not a single moment of wit or inspiration appears during this inane narrative.
The film basically exists to exploit one premise: a seedy angel. It delights in its attempts to contrast our image of angels as pure and blissful with Michael’s gluttony, sloppiness and sexual appetite.
As premises go, that could work, but it’d take an approach better developed than this. Michael finds no joke too cheap or cheesy to exploit, and they all fall miserably flat.
Travolta mugs and gesticulates through his terrible performance, and the others don’t fare much better. Not that I can blame them, as the hokey, cliché script doesn’t help.
Does anything about Michael succeed? Nope. This winds up as a sub-moronic insult to the intelligence of the viewer.