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Guardian Angel
(1994)

Director: Richard W. Munchkin  
Cast:
Cynthia Rothrock, Daniel McVicar, Lydie Denier


If you have been reading enough of my movie reviews, enough to have read my opinions on movies such as Naked Killer and Sonny Boy, you will have probably have concluded that it takes a lot to offend me. As a matter of fact, most of the time that is true. However, there are a few things - little things - that while they might fly by unscathed by many people, do manage to bother me greatly. One of them happens to be the mostly forgotten saying, "Free, white, and 21." Even the first time that I came across that saying (when I was a child), I found it very insulting. In fact, I couldn't believe it when I once caught my mother saying it. But now that years have passed, and I have thought about it for a long time, I have to admit that, at least in the society that I live in, those words have some truth to them. I live in a society, and in a way, where I would be considered very lucky by many people around the world. There is still slavery in many parts of the world, so I know I am fortunate enough to live in a society where slavery is outlawed. And while multiculturalism has made great strides over the past few decades in my society, often white people still get more breaks than people of different races. And yes, being 21 opens more doors to things than if you were much younger - though where I live, 19 years of age is the golden key to the door for stuff like drinking alcohol or voting. But there is one thing that saying is missing that also can be a big influence on your standing in society, and that happens to be if you are male or female. Just think about it for a moment. Women have a lot of difficulties that men just don't have. For instance, women have health issues like breast or pelvic examinations that mean they are constantly monitoring their bodies.

But it goes beyond health issues, right to their social standings. Though women have also made great strides in society over the past few decades, there are still problems they face like unfair salaries compared to men in the same job positions. And with some jobs, they find it difficult to impossible to get their foot in the door. Why is this? Well, I once read a quote from actor Michael Caine as to why women have it so tough to join the work force. He said that since nature assigned women to be the bearer of children, and the ones to give milk to these children, society felt they should be the ones to stay home with the children while the men went out and did the work to provide for their families. Whatever the reasons might have been for society to impose roles on women, it remains a fact that women today still have a tough time earning roles that you would normally associate with men. That's why you have to admire a woman like martial arts actress Cynthia Rothrock. Martial arts, at least in this country, are not what many people associate with women. Rothrock must have felt the odd man (or rather, odd woman) out when she started taking martial arts lessons at the age of 13. But she stuck to it, and when she became an adult, she won many championships. Stardom in movies seemed like the logical next step, but she found it extremely difficult to convince American movie companies to give her a chance. She had to travel to Hong Kong and work on movies there for several years before American film companies would give her a chance after seeing her Asian sucesses.

You've got to admire Rothrock for sticking to it and working over many years before getting domestic success. However, even though she is now pretty well known among B movie fans in America and elsewhere around the world, there is a painful fact about her movies: they just aren't very good. Guardian AngelIn my review of Angel Of Fury years ago, I noted that all the American movies I had seen of hers weren't very good. Since then, I have seen a couple of her Hong Kong movies, and while they were better, they still weren't anything necessary to seek out. So you may be wondering why I am reviewing another Cynthia Rothrock movie with Guardian Angel. The answer is simple: it was made by PM Entertainment, the film company that made amazing action movies like Last Man Standing and The Sweeper. This fact got my hopes up that maybe they used her talents in a good and memorable way. At the very least, I figured, the movie would have good production values and good action sequences. In Guardian Angel, Rothrock plays McKay, a Los Angeles policewoman who at the beginning of the movie is tracking down a gang of currency counterfeiters. She is engaged to fellow cop Nick (Marshall Teague, Road House), who is assisting her in her investigation. During the investigation, however, Nick is killed by Nina (Denier, Wild Orchid 2), a key member of the conterfeit gang. McKay subsequently quits the force and becomes a bodyguard. One day, McKay gets a call from millionaire Lawton Hobbs (McVicar, The Bold And The Beautiful), who desperately needs someone to protect him from his crazy ex-girlfriend who has just escaped from jail. And this ex-girlfriend of Hobbs happens to be Nina.

Guardian Angel was released two years after the smash hit Kevin Costner vehicle The Bodyguard. While I won't say that Guardian Angel is a rip-off of The Bodyguard - beside the switch in sexes between the two main characters, the plot does go in several different directions - I think it would be safe to say this movie was at the very least inspired by its big-budget cousin. But the fact a movie may copy elements from another movie usually doesn't bother me - I'm more concerned if the movie is well made rather than its originality (or lack of.) So is Guardian Angel well made? Well, I'll start my analysis by looking at how Rothrock comes across in the movie. To put it kindly, she doesn't come across very well. Oh, she certainly looks beautiful as always (sigh), and in her martial art sequences she puts in a decent amount of enthusiasm and never uses a double even when her character's moves start to get complex. Unfortunately, when Rothrock is standing still and opens her mouth, the amount of good will she brought to the movie is immediately swept away. While I won't say she is the worst martial arts actor I have ever seen (that distinction goes to Lorenzo Lamas), her acting in this movie is often very lacking. When she tries to talk tough, she sounds very stilted, like she is uncomfortable acting this way instead of finding the fun of acting like a badass. Her worst moment has to be the scene where her fiance is killed in front of her eyes - she doesn't cry or show any kind of big emotion at all with the loss of her character's fiance as soon as it happens, or even later on. It's badly acted scenes like that one that sometimes make it hard to get involved with her character and her character's goals.

However, I will admit that Rothrock isn't completely terrible in her acting. When she is paired up in a scene with McVicar, Rothrock seems to be very comfortable engaging in banter with her costar. It isn't fabulous acting, but there's a nice feeling coming from watching the two actors exchange words. Part of that also has to come from the fact McVicar gives a very likable performance in his scenes with Rothrock and elsewhere in the movie. He makes his millionaire character unspoiled and down to earth, a refreshing change of pace. Of course, what the movie really needs besides likable protagonists is a strong villain. Unfortunately, Guardian Angel is sorely lacking in the strong antagonist department. While it may not be entirely her fault (a good villain gets a lot of its construction from a good director), Denier simply isn't wicked enough. I'm not necessarily asking for something over the top, but I'm certainly asking for something stronger than her bland performance here. She's too casual in her acting, even when her character kills someone. You might think that her inadequate acting might be compensated by seeing her in battle with Rothrock, but I have some bad news to tell you. Not once does Denier get into a martial arts battle with Rothrock (or anyone else for that matter.) Yes, you read that right, this is a martial arts movie where the butt-kicking protagonist doesn't get into a martial arts fight with the villain. In case you are wondering what happens in the climax, Rothrock instead gets into a martial arts battle with a sidekick of Denier's character, then subsequently chases down Denier in a speedboat chase in the movie's final few minutes.

Maybe I wouldn't be complaining about shortcoming such as those if the movie delivered some decent action sequences on a regular pace. But since I am complaining, that should tell you what I think of the movie's action sequences. Guardian Angel makes the same mistakes many American martial arts movies make, mistakes I have mentioned many times in other reviews. First of all, the camera is often jammed right next to the actors instead of stepping back and showing all of their bodies. Next, we get one or two quick martial arts moves, then a cut to another angle. Then one or two martial arts moves, followed by a cut to another angle. Then one or two martial arts moves, followed by a cut to another angle. Repeat over and over. THIS IS NOT HOW TO FILM MARTIAL ARTS! This method makes it look like anyone, even the most unathletic person, could do martial arts. I simply could not find excitement in fight sequences that looked easily made. As for the movie's other action scenes - shootouts, chases, etc. - they come across as surprisingly dull. Not only dull, but containing surprising continuity goofs, like how when McKay is riding a horse you see trees around her, but when her horse throws her off she is suddenly in the middle of a field when she hits the ground. With slipshod moments like that, it should come as no surprise that the movie's basic production values are lacking at times. The interior of a mental health asylum was obviously filmed on a soundstage, and strangely lacking illumination. In fact, a great deal of the rest of the movie is shot in extremely dark interior environments, possibly in an attempt to generate atmosphere, but instead making it look ridiculous that no character gets in their mind to flip on a light switch. In the end, Guardian Angel is a movie that will make you lose faith concerning the idea of movies with women that kick ass. As well as with movies from PM Entertainment.

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See also: Angel Of Fury, Naked Killer, The Stranger

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