Yes, J. Lo Can Do Wrong … Hello, Keely; Farewell, Portia

Yes, J. Lo Can Do Wrong

Jennifer Lopez, free from tabloid sleaze and looking for respect, does not shake her booty in Angel Eyes . This is not good: A little of the old paprika might have saved this turgid bore from instant oblivion. Here she is, playing a tough Chicago cop named Sharon, so chaste that she sleeps alone and so emotionally isolated from the fun life that she doesn’t even own a canary, much less a cat, and what’s the point? It’s a role anybody could play. Cop uniforms and ugly clothes off the rack at Wal-Mart. No sign of makeup. Even her chest seems taped. But if J. Lo is a no-show, you can’t blame it on Puffy. Her bodyguard still gets a screen credit. I can’t imagine why; there’s no danger from a script as dull as Angel Eyes . Even her cop stunts are performed by body doubles.

One year after she plucks him from an automobile accident that kills his wife and son, a guy who calls himself “Catch” (Jim Caviezel) returns the favor, saving Sharon from an assassin’s bullet. Although his accident left Catch playing with less than a full deck, his perpetual look of dazed innocence is very appealing to a tough lady cop with no life of her own. An all-American boy on Dexedrine, he remains a monosyllabic mystery until one night in a jazz club, when he picks up a trumpet and plays a moody, ready-for-CD arrangement of “Nature Boy.” Before you can say “Harry James,” she’s got a zombie in her blood. Zikes, girl, this may be a hunk worth saving!

The burned-out lady cop and the dissipated musician are now on a mutual mission. In the dull, implausible soap opera that develops, Catch gives Sharon the courage to face her estranged family, who has never forgiven her for sending her own father to jail for beating up her mother, and Sharon gives Catch (whose real name is Steve) the self-confidence to get behind the wheel of a car again. (He also adopts a dog, surrenders his childhood toys to the child next door, and shaves off his Bowery-bum whiskers.)

Ms. Lopez slugs her way through a film as slow as a dripping faucet with toned abs and a terminal scowl. Mr. Caviezel, who gave the standout performance in The Thin Red Line , looks like he’s auditioning for The Chet Baker Story . As usual, the best performances are by the older, more experienced supporting players-Sonia Braga as her long-suffering mother, Shirley Knight as his crippled mother-in-law who gives him advice in exchange for groceries. As their world becomes more insular, a few scumbags drop in from time to time as a reminder that she’s still a cop with a job to do, even though she never returns to work during the second half of the film. J. Lo looks like she’s seen more life on the street than they have.

Nothing about Angel Eyes is remotely believable, including the title. Imagine a movie called Angel Eyes in which that eternal jazz classic is never played or sung one time. There’s a lousy pop song at the end called “Angel Eyes” that sounds like an Indian love call yodeled by Pocahontas on angel dust, but it’s the wrong song. Which pretty much describes the whole movie, if you ask me.

A Family Affair With Adam

Kate Hudson, the daughter of Goldie Hawn, is the flavor of the month in Hollywood. She exhibited a take-charge personality in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous and Robert Altman’s Dr. T & the Women , and even though she lost this year’s supporting-actress Oscar to Marcia Gay Harden, I think it’s safe to say she has made her splash and emerged towel-dry and shining. However, this doesn’t mean she’s ready for every role that comes along, and in the new Irish film About Adam she’s as miscast and out-of-place as Miss Piggy tackling Lady Macbeth.

Wrestling with a Gaelic accent that wavers and wafts uncertainly before it skips away completely, Ms. Hudson plays Lucy Owen, a singing waitress in a Dublin pub who has exhausted so many local lads in dead-end affairs that she’s given up on love. Jaded and disillusioned, Lucy is almost ready for the convent when she serendipitously meets the boyishly handsome Adam (Stuart Townsend), a new face in town so fresh that he seems to have fallen out of a Christmas tree. Clean-cut, polite, thoughtful and sexy, Adam is unlike any of the old boyfriends Lucy has dated; he actually calls for her at home in a beautiful convertible, charms her family and never jumps her bones. In fact, the subject of sex never comes up. Adam is just too good to be true. So what’s the matter with Adam? Lucy falls with a passion and commitment she’s never had before, but the movie is just getting started. There’s more to Adam than meets the eye, and the joy is finding out just what it is.

As Adam works his way into Lucy’s heart through the trendy clubs and art galleries of a swinging, modern Dublin never seen on film, he also mischievously works his way into the hearts (and beds) of the other members of Lucy’s skeptical, close-knit family. First, there’s her introverted sister Laura (Frances O’Connor, who made her cinematic mark as Jane Austen’s heroine in the recent Mansfield Park ). Vulnerable Laura, a scholarly bookworm who lives in a world of Victorian poetry and bohemian romanticism, brings out Adam’s hidden sensitivity. Next in line to sample his devastating charm is their older married sister Alice (Charlotte Bradley), their flighty widowed mother Peggy (Rosaleen Linehan), and even their brother David (Alan Maher), who develops such a crush on Adam that he starts believing he’s gay.

Adam’s powers of seduction are so expertly honed that he has a heart-rending effect on everyone in the family, and the film is related in sections, each one from a different sibling’s point of view. The effect on his conquests is so liberating that by the time they discover the object of their passion is a user, a pathological liar and a conniving sexual satyr, they couldn’t care less. Adam has taught them all a lesson in love, fulfilled their fantasies and changed their lives. Adam is here to stay.

About Adam has a literate script and sparkling direction, both by the promising Irish director Gerard Stembridge, that raise the polyamorous elements of the story above the fairy-tale level. The one about the erotic hunk who sleeps his way to the top with every member of the same family is not exactly new. Terence Stamp did it memorably in Pasolini’s Teorema , and Michael York went through Angela Lansbury’s eccentric household like Kleenex in the black comedy Something for Everyone . But there is something so sunny and teasing about the way Adam does it that his game is more fun than it is immoral.

This is due largely to the enormous charisma of Stuart Townsend, a gifted and attractive actor who brings a light and polished refinement to a role that might otherwise seem treacherous and unsympathetic. Kate Hudson may be the American box-office lure, and like her mom, she’s quite a morsel, but she can’t sing for tuppence, and Mr. Townsend steals the picture. He’s the palmiest rake on the make since Laurence Harvey in Room at the Top , and About Adam is the most delightful mulligan stew out of Ireland since Waking Ned Devine .

Hello, Keely; Farewell, Portia

Notes on the cabaret scene: In a cheap and cynical world of bad contemporary music, pointless songs, tone-deaf singers and lowered standards, it’s comforting to know some of the good things never change. Keely Smith is one of them. A welcome reminder that great singing styles never go out of fashion, she sounds as hip today as she did in the good old 1950’s, when she and her late husband Louis Prima were the crown heads of Vegas. In a rare New York appearance at Feinstein’s at the Regency (through May 26), she’s celebrating a terrific new Concord Jazz CD, Keely Sings Sinatra , with her own spin on the timeless songbook of Ol’ Blue Eyes. It’s a roof-raising event.

Battling a spring cold on her star-studded opening night that wrought havoc on her famous pipes and screwed up her pitch, she was visibly frustrated, but in her long and winding career it was just a pothole. On the CD, a 31-piece orchestra lifts her into the stratosphere; at Feinstein’s, she’s accompanied by her usual trio, plus a complement of brass, a synthesizer and four cellos that bring out the best in such Sinatra evergreens as “Angel Eyes,” “All the Way” and a wildly swinging “It Was a Very Good Year” that stops the show. The Native American with the black Louise Brooks bangs (her pal Sinatra always called her “Injun”) has never lost her infallible sense of time, her cheerful enthusiasm for lyrics, her off-the-wall humor or her Southern drawl that turns “I’ve Got a Crush on You” into “Ah gotta crush on yew …. ” “Darling” comes out “dollin,” “heart” is “hot,” and the way she socks out “I wanna be a pot of it, New Yawk, New Yawk” brings down the house. In the shank of the evening, when she strays from the Sinatra material long enough to dust off the hits she recorded with Louis Prima, I felt like I was back on school vacation, being cool with my shades on in the lounge at the Sahara Hotel.

Elegant, regal and wise, Portia Nelson was a cabaret icon and, like Mabel Mercer, one of the most respected keepers of the keys to the great American songbook. When she died on March 6, a vast lexicon of knowledge and taste went with her. In her career, she chronicled the work of Cole Porter and Bart Howard, but every Thursday night in May at the FireBird Café the wit and sophistication of the extraordinary songs she wrote herself are relived in “This Life,” a revue with three gifted performers-Tom Anderson, Deborah Tranelli and Terri Klausner-who recreate her many musical moods with charm and spruce.

Nelson often wrote in metaphors, about the bills, the cats, the empty ashtrays and the other detritus left behind at the end of a love affair; the odd, unpredictable things that make opposites attract; the frustration, panic and addictions of all of us who are in “love/hate with New York” (a condition for which she has found no cure). These songs of love-found, lost, unrequited, on the rocks and still to come-distill the tough-yet-fragile essence of a great, unique lady, and should be required study for every budding performer enrolled in Cabaret 101. Yes, J. Lo Can Do Wrong … Hello, Keely; Farewell, Portia