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Riding Spirituality Trend, Angels Revisit Hollywood

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Angels are back in style on the wide screen.

John Travolta plays one in "Michael," the film about a down-to-earth archangel who visits our world because he's entranced by its beauty.

Denzel Washington plays another in "The Preacher's Wife," about a heavenly visitor whose mission is to help a clergyman with an ambitious church-building project and soothe the spirits of the minister's neglected wife.

Neither movie is a masterpiece. "Michael" is too gimmicky for its own good, relying on one-note jokes about the hero's fondness for profane pleasures as he accompanies three tabloid reporters on a trip through the American countryside. "The Preacher's Wife" is too long and lazy, spinning an appealing yarn - based on "The Bishop's Wife," an eccentric 1947 comedy with Cary Grant in the angelic role - but building little excitement outside Whitney Houston's musical numbers.

Still, both movies show refreshing interest in spiritual dimensions outside the day-to-day material world, reminding us that twisters and first-wives' clubs and bug-eyed martians aren't the only subjects Hollywood can try on for size.

Whatever the future holds for angel-centered cinema, at least one classic from the past is holding its own in critical esteem and mass-audience adulation. "It's a Wonderful Life" has just sailed through its 50th anniversary with no sign of flagging popularity.

Moviegoers haven't always embraced Frank Capra's dark comedy, which stars James Stewart as a man so unhappy that it takes a hard-working angel - determined to "earn his wings" by doing a good deed - to save him from suicide and renew his faith in the value of his existence.

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