Luc Besson is usually a pretty decent box office draw amongst the art house crowd in this country, which leaves me wondering why it took a year and a half for us to get Angel-A, purportedly his final live-action movie (which I'll believe when he's dead, and not a moment sooner), during which time the animation hybrid Arthur and the Invisibles (purportedly his final movie overall) managed to shoot in and out of theaters with little fanfare.

Note, please, that I am not saying, it is terrible and cruel that we 'merkins had to wait these long months to see the film, because when all is said and done it's not really all that good.

Considering that Besson is an unabashed auteur, there's not actually much that unites all of his films stylistically or thematically, so when I say that Angel-A is "Besson-tinged, I'm not actually certain what I mean. Having said that, Angel-A is essentially a Besson-tinged riff on Wings of Desire, right down to the hazy black-and-white cinematography, although instead of Peter Falk musing about human nature while drawing sketches, we here find gangsters threatening to drop people off of the Eiffel Tower. Other than that, they're pretty much identical.

You can take the boy out of the crime genre, but you can't take the crime genre out of the boy, I suppose. Which is as good an explanation as any for the weird tonal bundle of this romantic action comedy about divine intervention. The story centers on André (Jamel Debbouze, who is quickly turning into one of the most charming actors in Europe), a Moroccan-born American immigrant to Paris in some considerable trouble pertaining to a €40,000 debt he owes to local ganglord Frank (Gilbert Melki).

Obviously, death is the only hope for André at this point, and so he prepares to jump in the Seine; his plan is stymied when, in an uncharacteristic moment of initiative, he saves a beautiful, tall, blond woman with the same idea. Needless to say, this woman - Angela (Rie Rasmussen, whose stylish leggy blonde credentials got sealed up early: her film debut was in Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale) - responds to all of this by making André's rehabilitation her new project in life.

Now, the film tries to make this next part a twist, revealing it just a bit past the half-way point, but all of the attentive viewers who noticed the hyphen in the title have already figured out that Angela is in fact André's guardian angel, sent to Earth to redeem him and teach him to love life again. This is muddied, considerably, by the fact that André has already fell head over heels in love with her.

In essence, then, this is the tale of a schlubby guy with low self-esteem meeting an awesome girl who can magically do everything and whose only wish in life is to make him feel better. Or, as the scholars put it, "Every Adolescent Male's Single Greatest Wish In All The World." But Besson has always been more or less an adolescent male, and so the blatant sexism in Angel-A is less of a problem and more of an idiosyncrasy. His films are pretty much all video games of one kind or another, so video game dating seems like a pretty fitting close to his career.

And, Besson being Besson, this isn't just a high-concept romantic comedy (by the way, when it gets remade in Hollywood as just a high-concept romantic comedy, I picture B.J. Novak and Sophia Bush as the leads, although the director will complain on the DVD commentary about wanting Seth Rogen and Zooey Deschanel). As should come as no surprise to fans of Léon, itself a slantwise riff on rom-coms, and Besson's masterpiece, Angel-A is a high-concept romantic comedy involving copious ass-kicking, and most of that involves Angela being the sort of hot that only a 13-year-old could dream up.

That's not the part that bugs me. That's honestly the film I was expecting: a babe kicking ass and being almost completely devoid of personality, and while I wouldn't have proclaimed it the finest work of this or any other decade, I probably would have left with a slight grin on my face, and a shrugging acceptance of, "hey. Besson. Wotcher gonna do?"

The part that bugs me is that, after a fantastically tight opening twenty minutes that lay out the story and drag us with André through the Parisian underbelly, and brings him to Angela the film settles into a laid-back groove that is, how shall we say, endlessly boring. It's a lot of underdeveloped character moments that go nowhere (literally: all of André's arc takes place in a five minute burst near the end), interspersed with gorgeous touristy shots of famous landmarks, that make one appreciate anew how successfully Paris, je t'aime avoided that particular trap over 18 segments. There are bits here and there that are pretty stylish and cool, adding up to maybe another fifteen minutes, but mostly it's just two people walking through extraordinary cinematography and babbling about nothing; I don't know if Besson saw Before Sunset prior to making this movie, but that film has its prints all over this, too, although that Linklater film is so hopelessly better than Angel-A that I want to give Besson a hug.

I'm being harsh. I don't want to be harsh. It's pretty (which always counts for a little) and it steals from the very best, and I continue to love Debbouze, and Rasmussen is undeniably easy on the eyes. But it's also not substantial enough to cover up the rather shocking lack of style, given that Besson has always been a textbook example of a director who gets a free pass on lack of substance, for being so snazzy to look at. Oh well. That's the way the career ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.