After accidentally breaking the town eccentric’s (Vanessa Redgrave) fence, 12-year-old James (Trevor Morgan) is forced to repair it, but in so doing something else is built: a strong friendship with the shady lady named Maddy, who teaches James about Morse code and its strange connection to departed loved ones. For James, who hasn’t quite shaken the tragic loss of his mother two years prior, the possibility of communication with her is something of a godsend. But for James’ father (Ray Liotta) and stepmother (Catherine McCormack, looking dismayingly haggard), Maddy’s suggestion is one of false hope that can only do more damage.
“A Rumor of Angels” is directed by Peter O’Fallon, who tries the opposite extreme after last descending into Tarantinoesque land with the crime drama Suicide Kings. But family-friendly, heartwarming entertainment doesn’t come well to him either; he fails to come up with a convincing atmosphere of magical possibility, making the conclusion (which recalls that of M. Night Shyamalan’s pre-Sixth Sense feature, Wide Awake, with which this film shares other similarities) feel that much more forced and hackneyed. Also not helping is his heavy-handed attempts at lightness; one James-Maddy bonding scene where they paint the fence to the strains of Mozart is pretty embarrassing.
Yet Redgrave always maintains her dignity, and any emotional reaction the film is able to elicit rests squarely on her shoulders. Morgan, last seen in Jurassic Park III, attempts to reach Osment-ville with some heavy emotional scenes, but his less-than-convincing work will make people pine for the gifted Haley Joel. While Ron Livingston is a lively scene stealer as James’ layabout uncle, Liotta and especially McCormack struggle with underdeveloped roles. Were it not for the presence of higher-level acting talent, “A Rumor of Angels” would have been a banal TV movie, and given the fact that virtually no one is bound to show up at theatres for it, the project should have been made for the tube.