Avenging Angelo

Director: Martyn Burke   
Sylvester Stallone, Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Quinn

When you run a site like The Unknown Movies, there are inevitably going to be some questions you will be asked right after you tell people about the kind of web site you run. One of those questions is, "What's your favorite movie?", and I have to admit that I have no easy answer to that question. I see and enjoy so many movies, that I am reluctant to boil it down to one favorite. (Though I must admit that sometimes I am tempted to say The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly to this question.) Another question I get asked is, "Who is your favorite actor?" Like the first question, I am reluctant to list just one personal favorite actor. There are a lot of film actors that I admire, and many who have intrigued me so much (for various reasons) right from the first time I saw them that I have sought out their other movies. One of the first was Jackie Chan, years before he broke through to the North American market. I came across a copy of Police Force in a video store, and I was intrigued by a quote from a critic on the cover of the video box that proclaimed this unknown-to-me star to be a "...cross between Clint Eastwood and Buster Keaton". I watched the movie, and immediately afterwards started a quest to find his other movies (and being frustrated for the next few years by only finding those crappy movies he made that were aimed at the American market.) Then there is Sylvester Stallone. I remember sneaking into my local theater in the early '70s to watch Kitty in A Party At Kitty And Stud's, but finding instead that the performance of the male newcomer in the movie stole the show (at least when he kept his clothes on.)

Those of you who are wondering if I was kidding in the last part of the above paragraph are correct - I only ever saw "G" rated movies at the theater as a youngster, and A Party At Kitty And Stud's never made it to my hometown, even though we had a drive-in. But I was not kidding about the part when I declared Sylvester Stallone an actor who intrigued me from the very first movie I saw him in. The first movie I saw him in was Rocky, when it was broadcast on television. Even as a youngster, I thought that Stallone's performance as a down-and-out with dreams of going the distance and reaching the stars was a very effective one, and by the end of the movie I was interested in seeing how he would appear in other, different movies. I got the answer a short time later (after seeing Rocky II) when I saw him in First Blood. Here, he showed he could play a rougher, more violent character, though one that could still get sympathy from the audience. So as the subsequent years went by, I managed to sit down and see pretty much every Stallone movie (at least the ones where he was in the starring role.) I will admit that it hasn't always been easy to do so. Stallone has definitely made some bad decisions in choosing movies, with such movies like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! Also, his style of thinking when choosing some productions has been somewhat of a turn-off as well. Years after making Over The Top, he explained to one interviewer why he chose to do the movie: "(Producer) Menahem Golan kept offering me more and more money, until I thought, 'What the hell - no one will see it!'"

As a result of all these bad decisions, as well as the seeming contempt coming out of a lot of these decisions, Stallone's career started down a decline. First, audiences in North America started to dwindle for his movies, Avenging Angeloeven on the rare occasions when he made a genuinely good movie. (I thought that Daylight was a good little disaster-themed movie.) Then audiences overseas, who always seemed to be bigger fans of Stallone than domestic audiences, started to skip his movies as well. Soon Stallone had to resort to shopping his projects to the schlock producers at Franchise Pictures (Driven). Then his subsequent movies started to get almost no theatrical release, at least in the United States (Eye See You and Shade). Then there was Avenging Angelo, the movie that's being reviewed here. That movie doesn't seem to have received any kind of theatrical release, at least in North America. Although Stallone has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years (The Expendables, Rocky Balboa, and Rambo all did well enough worldwide to make profits that can be considered to be very respectable), the little-release sting of his previous movies still has something of an impact amongst audiences. Although I didn't like Eye See You, I didn't think Shade was bad, so I wanted to see if Avenging Angelo had been unfairly treated by Hollywood distributors. Another factor that made me want to see this movie was that it had been released in North American with no fanfare and seemingly everyone ignoring it at the time. With a cast like the one it had and with no publicity, I couldn't help but be curious.

The bulk of the movie takes place in the New York City area. We are introduced early on to Frankie (Stallone), who makes his living as a bodyguard and also as a kind of servant to aged mobster Angelo (Quinn, in his last role). Not long after these two characters are introduced, Angelo is gunned down by an assassin working for a rival mobster during a brief moment when Frankie lets his guard down. Before his death, Angelo had made it clear to Frankie that after his death he wanted Frankie to continue to keep an eye out for his secret daughter Jennifer (Stowe), who up to this point didn't know who her real father was. When Frankie shows up and explains the situation to her, things are tense between the two for a while, but eventually she decides to stand up for herself, asking Frankie to help her assassinate the mobster who put the hit on her father. That's the plot, and I am sure that those of you who have not seen the movie (which I guess is pretty much all of you) have some idea how the above and the rest of the movie will play out. You're thinking that there will a lot of action and some romance along the way, sort of how Stallone's earlier movie The Specialist played out (and hopefully played out a lot better than that movie.) That's what I thought when I picked up this movie from the action section of my neighborhood video store. But seconds into watching the movie, a slight feeling of dread sparked in me when I heard the first sprightly notes of Bill Conti's score. This feeling just started to increase when a few minutes later when Stowe's character is introduced, she proceeded to make a jackass out of herself by sticking her head out of her car's sunroof to scream goodbye to her young son's departing airplane just outside an airport.

I can hear a chorus of groans from the vast majority of you readers who have just read those last two sentences and have come to a deadly conclusion about how the plot of Avenging Angelo is executed, and I will confirm to you readers that your instincts are correct. For the remaining few of you that are still in the dark, I will break the bad news to you now. Avenging Angelo does not take itself seriously for many parts of the movie. In fact, there is enough of this non-serious attitude towards its story that the movie could be branded by some as a comedy. Yes, despite Stallone's past utter failures at comedies like Rhinestone and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (and Stallone freely admitting in a number of interviews that these movies were awful), Stallone has tried comedy again. Perhaps he decided to give the genre another shot because admittedly his role in this movie is more "straight" than his roles in those other comedies. That's not to say that his role is completely humor-free, but when there is a lighter moment from him he wisely does it in a light comic fashion and gets quickly back to his serious side. Stallone is actually okay in the movie for the most part, but there are a few moments when he seems distracted, almost bored, and not completely in focus. Maybe he was thinking about some of the many questionable attempts at humor in the movie and wondering what he got himself into. For example, at one point he kills an assassin gunning for Jennifer, hides the corpse from Jennifer, and as he talks to Jennifer, the corpse hidden in the room breaks wind several times. He claims the noise is "squirrels", and from that I think you can guess just how awful this movie's sense of humor is at times.

Just thinking of that scene now, it seems illogical that he would hide the assassin's corpse from Jennifer when at this point of the movie he was still trying to convince her just who she was and that she was in danger. In fact, the screenplay has a number of other illogical moments, like early in the movie when Frankie, shot by an assassin seconds after Angelo is killed, goes directly afterwards to Jennifer's home, wounded and bleeding, to reveal himself and her secret father when it would have been more logical to go to the hospital first. (It's not like he was wanted for a crime at this point.) The screenplay also unfolds in a very slow fashion; it takes over two-thirds of the movie to play out before Jennifer announces that she wants revenge. Not only is the screenplay unpolished, the look and feel of the movie is lacking as well. Angelo's empire is never seen apart from Frankie, the chosen Toronto shooting locations don't look anything like New York, and even in the interiors there is a curious made-for-TV feeling. (It doesn't help that the movie was released full-frame for DVD.) But while Stallone and director Martyn Burke may be somewhat embarrassed by their efforts here, the person who should really be embarrassed is Stowe. Whether it swigging whisky straight from the bottle, ramming her face into an air bag hard enough to leave a deep impression of her face, or taking off her clothes in front of an elderly man in an effort to give him a heart attack, she has plenty to be humiliated about here. Maybe that's why Stallone signed on to this movie, to prove that as bad as he's been in the past, it was nothing compared to Stowe here.

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See also: Find The Lady, Keaton's Cop, Taking The Heat