Two convicts (De Niro and Penn) escape the sadistic clutches of their warden, only to be mistaken as two priest attending a convention in the grim Canadian bordertown of Brandon, where Demi Moore and a statue of the weeping Virgin are the only distractions.
Following on from the personal and artistic catastrophe that was High Spirits, Neil Jordan, whether through bravery or downright pigheadedness here opts for the same turf of comedy-with-miraculous-overtones. And like its predecessor, We're No Angels is a major studio film, with major-league stars and a budget that reportedly went through the roof. Here, however, the similarities end. Unlike High Spirits which looked as if nobody had bothered to direct it, We're No Angels reinstates Jordan as a prodigious talent prepared to unite comedy and drama in an unorthodox way and to take fearsome chances with the talent at his disposal.
Ned (DeNiro) and Jim (Penn) are two small-time cons serving time in a grisly prison under the sadistic eye of the late and typically great Ray McAnally. They do a bunk only to find themselves half-frozen and manacled together outside the Canadian border town of Brandon, famous for its shrine of the weeping Virgin. Mistaken for two priests late for the annual festival, they get taken to the local monastery from where they again attempt to escape, thus setting the scene for comic and romantic adventures aplenty.
Both DeNiro and Penn are obviously a long way away from their more traditional internalised roles here but after the initial shock of seeing them capering around, both manage to convince, with Penn particularly impressive, shedding the dumb cluck routine layer by layer with a skill and care reminiscent of Cagney. Craftily scripted by David Mamet and never predictable, We're No Angels demands a fairly major suspension of earthly disbelief but rewards the believer with a heady sense that God is indeed in his heaven and all is right with the world.
Unexpectedly raucous comedy which trades off a few laughs for an interesting religious spin. Jordan can thank his lucky stars, but give himself a massive, stubborn pat on the back while he's at it.