Sarah (Mia Kirshner) is an artist in Los Angeles who believes that there is such a thing as a crow that can take a person's spirit, their soul, and bring it to life if there is a specific purpose for that, for instance unfinished business in the mortal realm. One such individual who needs that treatment is Ashe (Vincent Perez), who has been shot and pushed into the river to die, tied to the corpse of his young son, a horrible way to go that his attackers shrug off as part of their day to day lives. They are gang members under the orders of Judah Earl (Richard Brooks) who controls the drugs trade in the city with an iron grip, and there is nobody able to stand up to them - so can the crow bring Ashe to the living in response?
The story of the first Crow movie is well known, as star Brandon Lee was killed in a tragic accident during the filming of an action sequence, therefore it would appear unlikely anyone would wish to cash in on that notoriety with a sequel, especially as the star was no longer with us. However, this was the film industry we were talking about, and with every hit (The Crow did very well indeed) there are producers clamouring to follow it up or rip it off, so a mere two years later The Crow: City of Angels showed up. Far from denying the morbid sources (Jay O'Barr's inspirational comic book was drawn from the horrendous experience of seeing his girlfriend murdered), director Tim Pope and writer David S. Goyer sought to embrace them.
Which might have made for a genuinely provocative and worthwhile movie, but that was apparently not what producing brothers the Weinsteins wanted, they simply asked for the first movie done over again with a different cast. Pope and Goyer were horrified, and disowned the reshoot-riddled and severely abbreviated version that made it to cinemas, whereupon it promptly flopped for seeming to be rather distasteful in the eyes of the audience, leaving the possibility of a death-soaked and ruminative horror film that had something to present about the looming end to each life squandered in favour of Perez bumping off bad guys in the ultimate combination of slasher flick villain and action flick vigilante, or that came across as the idea, at any rate.
Some marks of quality survived, it was a highly polished work visually as befitting Pope's background as one of the most sought-after music video directors around, and if his experience here had not been so traumatic it might have coaxed him back behind the camera for another try at a feature length effort. Alas, it was not to be, but his imagery, suffused with the streetlight glow of Los Angeles at night (barely a shot takes place in daytime), was deeply atmospheric in a way that indicated it could have done for its City of Angels what the first instalment did for Detroit, offering it a grim majesty in its urban Hellscape. Not that there was much redemption apparent, as we never see one representative of the police or authorities at all, as if Judah has taken over every aspect of the area's running.
If this had been a silent movie, or if at least dialogue had been kept to a minimum, we may have had something worthwhile, but unfortunately the characters had to converse and the dialogue indicated the thin line between Goth wisdom and pretentious nihilism. Perez in particular was not much of a successor to Lee's throne, with a tendency towards overacting, or at least overemphasising his lines, which made the hero more cartoonish than you imagine either Pope or Goyer would have wanted, and he was less of a threat to the equally caricatured bad guys as a result, no matter that he made swift work of them when concocting the novelty deaths. Odd casting saw Iggy Pop and Ian Dury share scenes, with the Iggster punching Mr Reasons to be Cheerful at one point; they added a little colour acting-wise, but the whiff of stunt casting was never far away, with the bad girl member of Judah's team best known as a Power Ranger in her former incarnation (this was the sadly shortlived Thuy Trang). It's frustrating watching a film that looks to have been sabotaged by studio interference, and if this may not have been a classic in its original edit, it would have been nice to have made that call as a viewer. Music by Graeme Revell.