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"Angie' a victim of split personality

For nearly an hour, Angie is a great big smile of a movie, with a radiant star turn by Geena Davis as a tough-talking Bensonhurst bombshell who finds herself unwed and pregnant. Director Martha Coolidge lovingly re-creates the verve of an Italian-American community with the same wry humor and interesting eccentrics that marked her best film, Rambling Rose.

Just when it appears Angie might be the equal of the quintessential love-and-linguine flick Moonstruck, Coolidge and screenwriter Todd Graff get a terminal case of the grumps. It happens so abruptly _ even before we can finish laughing at one of the funniest scenes in recent movies _ that Angie never recovers from the shock.

In one of the most sadistic turnabouts for a lovable character in memory, Graff's previously clever screenplay dumps every possible tragedy into Angie Scacciapensieri's life. They won't be revealed here _ some moviegoers still enjoy being shamelessly manipulated _ but it's a list of pitfalls so absurdly complete that even Stella Dallas and Mrs. Miniver would throw up their hands in surrender.

One thing about Davis, though. She sails through these jaw-dropping contrivances like a champ, with a sassy, sexy performance that ranks with her best work. With her vaguely awkward beauty and a drop-dead sense of comic timing, Davis has the kind of automatic affinity with an audience that marks the brightest Hollywood stars.

When the film begins, Angie is engaged to a blustery plumber named Vinnie (James Gandolfini), but has her doubts about that union. Matters are complicated when Angie discovers she's pregnant. A few days later, she meets Noel (Stephen Rea), an Irish charmer who's everything Angie wants in a man: cultured, professional and her equal with a wisecrack.

Rea is wonderful; the shaggy-dog appeal he unveiled in The Crying Game is more disarming when he's allowed to smile and enjoy witty repartee. His role is one of the worst casualties of Angie's mid-film crisis, right after a delivery room scene that rates as a comedy classic. Davis huffs, puffs, curses and gamely moans a tune from A Chorus Line to ease her tension during childbirth, just before a beeping monitor signals her (and the audience) that the fun is over.

Too bad Coolidge and Graff felt compelled to stoop to such melodramatic excesses. We already loved Angie Scacciapensieri for her tart tongue, gentle longings, fierce pride and considerable beauty. They didn't have to turn her into the ultimate martyr of the maternity ward.

MOVIE REVIEW

Angie Grade: C+

Director: Martha Coolidge

Cast: Geena Davis, Stephen Rea, James Gandolfini, Aida Turturro, Philip Bosco

Screenplay: Todd Graff, based on the novel Angie, I Says by Avra Wing

Rating: R; profanity, nudity, sexual situations

Running time: 108 min.

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