Eyes Of An Angel
(a.k.a. The Tender)

Director: Robert Harmon  
John Travolta, Ellie Raab, Tito Larriva

I am pretty sure I speak for the majority of people - not just people who frequent this web site - when I say that among the populous there is the dream of being famous. And I am pretty sure that for many of those dreamers, the famous position they dream of being in is that of a big movie star. Upon first glance at those individuals who are movie stars, one can understand why many people dream of being in that position of entertainment. For one thing, these movie stars usually get to play people who are much different than how they are in real life, which often can be a lot of fun, as you no doubt know from the fun you had as a kid playing different kinds of people. Not only that, they get paid to pretend to be all these different kinds of people! And the amount that they get paid can often be quite a lot, meaning they can purchase practically anything that they want. But when you think about it some more, not everything about a Hollywood celebrity's life is all that great. For starters, the biggest stars usually don't have a lot of privacy, thanks to all those media outlets reporting to star-struck fans any little bit of gossip about their favorite actors' lives. Also, the biggest actors usually have to do a lot of constant maintenance to maintain or increase their level of stardom. Just one little slip-up, like being mismanaged by a bad agent who cares nothing but getting his ten percent, can damage your career greatly. I am sure you know a number of actors who were once at the top of their game, but for various reasons their career fell into the toilet and as a result they are either not working, or working on projects that aren't exactly stellar.

Along with many other things about the motion picture industry, actors whose careers have become less spectacular have been one of my interests. In the past I have covered several actors appearing in movies that lack the grandeur of movies they have appeared in the past. Some of these actors managed to later make a comeback (like Sylvester Stallone), while other actors seem hopelessly stuck in career doldrums, like Cuba Gooding Jr. As I have observed these actors doing work that seems beneath them, I wonder what I would do if I was an actor stuck in the same situation. If I could, I would follow the advice one movie critic years ago gave a certain actor whose career had drastically declined. He told the actor to take a supporting role in a great director's movie. This way, he would be telling the Hollywood community that he was serious about his career, and wanted to do well. Of course, I realize that there are some actors stuck making cheesy movies that would never be picked by an "A" director to appear in his or her movie. When Chuck Norris' career started to decline in the late 1980s, for example, I'm sure he didn't have the option of getting hired by a great director for a great movie. What would I do if I was an actor with a declining career? Well, there are plenty of great independent movie projects out there, and many of those movies' directors would kill to have even a faded star in their cast. I would make sure that at least half of the movies I would subsequently make be a movie that had a good chance of being critically acclaimed. But at the same time, I would realize that I have to keep my commerciality up to a certain level. So I would be sure to make movies that are more commercial on a regular basis. Even if those movies were not good, I would tell myself that there are many struggling actors out there who would kill to have even a faded career like my own.

You have probably guessed by now that the movie I am writing about here - Eyes Of An Angel - concerns an actor who was once red hot, but his career had severely declined by the time he made the movie in question. You are correct. The actor in question is John Travolta, an actor I have covered several times before in various points of his career. Previously I covered a movie Eyes Of An Angelmade before he was famous (The Devil's Rain), and one he made during his comeback years (Lonely Hearts). It seemed logical to go further and look at one of his films made between Urban Cowboy and Pulp Fiction, when he was struggling. Eyes Of An Angel might have seemed like a good choice, a movie for the whole family that was going to be theatrically released. But after Eyes Of An Angel was completed, the studio went bankrupt, and the movie was shelved for several years until it was quietly dumped on video shortly after Travolta became hot again from Pulp Fiction. In the movie, Travolta plays Bobby Allen, a Chicago man that fortune is not shining on. As a single father, he struggles to raise his young daughter (Raab, The Fabulous Baker Boys) while his former brother-in-law Cissy (Larriva, Born In East L.A.) - who works for the mob - resents Bobby and blames him for his sister's death. Among other illegal activities, Cissy is involved with dog fights, and one night after one of his Dobermans is hurt during a fight, he dumps the wounded doberman in the river. The Doberman manages to struggle to shore, and is soon found by Bobby's daughter, who decides to take care of the dog despite Bobby's objections. Meanwhile, the resentful Cissy decides to set up Bobby so that the mob will take permanent care of him and allow Cissy to take guardianship of his niece. Bobby manages to escape from Cissy's goons, and he and his daughter flee Chicago and head towards Los Angeles, leaving the dog behind. But in the short time Bobby's daughter had the dog, the two had bonded, and the dog starts a cross-country trip to find his young mistress. But at the same time, Cissy and his mob goons are looking for Bobby...

If you are an adult with young children, it's possible after reading that description that you are thinking something along the lines of, "With nice guy Travolta in the cast, as well as a little girl and a dog, this sounds like an ideal family movie." Well, I have to break the news that Eyes Of An Angel is anything but family-friendly. The PG-13 rating of the movie is one clue that there is some harsh material here, including a lot of harsh language. Travolta's character gets the bulk of the profanity, including such charming exclamations like "damn", "hell", "crap", "Jesus Christ" (twice), "a**hole" (four times) "g*ddamn" (eight times), and "s*it" (four times). The supporting cast also get some opportunity to utter these exclamations, as well as the opportunity to exclaim the "f" word in one instance. But it's not just the language that makes this movie inappropriate for the kids. The movie starts off with a violent dog fight, we see an injured dog struggling after being dumped in a river, it's revealed that the deceased wife of Bobby was a drug addict (and it's implied that she died from an overdose), Bobby is beaten up by mobster goons (and gets away from them by ramming a rock into one goon's head, and beating another with a piece of wood), Bobby's brother is slugged by a goon and subsequently threatened with harm if he does not cooperate, Bobby is beaten by mob goons for a second time (and is shown bleeding and in pain afterwards), the climax of the movie gives us another dog fight as well as the sight of a dog with its jaws around a person's throat. A family friendly movie? I don't think so.

Of course, I am not a child, and I haven't been one for quite a while. And neither am I a parent of a child. I was watching the movie through the eyes of a seasoned movie critic who has seen much harsher things in other movies. But at the same time, I have to admit that the material I brought up in the previous paragraph did contribute to my feeling that Eyes Of An Angel isn't a movie that's audience-friendly to any possible person. Right from the start, I was really struck by how cold and unfriendly the movie was. It wasn't just because of that material that I mentioned, but also with the way the movie depicts the various characters and their relationships within the movie's story. For starters, I wasn't being lazy and deliberately leaving out the names of the little girl and her new dog in the plot description I wrote two paragraphs ago - the girl is never given a proper name even in the movie's closing credits, and she never gives her beloved dog a name to call it by. And the little girl never calls her father "dad" - instead she keeps calling him "Bobby". Bobby on the other hand spends much of the movie yelling and berating at his daughter, as well as being adamant about refusing her various requests and kind gestures. Cissy may be the former brother-in-law of Bobby, but he somehow never knew that Bobby had an older brother until he and his goons raid Bobby's abandoned apartment to look for clues where Bobby and his daughter have fled to. I am not exaggerating when I say that there is absolutely no main character in this movie that will make you feel comfortable about identifying with or even make you hope that they will meet with success.

But the problems with Eyes Of An Angel don't just end with its harsh tone and audience-unfriendly characters. There are a lot more problems, ranging from the screenplay to the direction. The movie opens with the declaration, "Based on a true story", a claim that kept getting more ludicrous in my mind as the movie progressed. (Most likely the screenwriter heard of one of those true stories about a lost pet making a cross-country trip to reconnect with its human owners, then added all that nonsense about mobsters.) But the silliness of the script doesn't end there. One of the stupidest things about the screenplay has to be with the dog's cross-country trip. Bobby and his daughter make the trip from Chicago to Los Angeles in about a couple of days, and it takes the dog only about an additional day running on its four paws to catch up. Possibly even more unbelievable is the way Bobby's conflict with the vengeful Cissy is wrapped up - or should I say, not wrapped up. Bobby and his daughter simply walk away from Cissy in the final shot, and there's nothing indicating that Cissy won't try to break Bobby's neck and try again to take guardianship of his niece. With such a sorry screenplay, it's little wonder that director Robert Harmon (who earlier directed The Hitcher) seems little interested in trying to punch things up. Besides coming across as hopeless with the up front and central characters, there is also a lack of sense of place no matter where the characters may be. Much of the movie is set in anonymous (and tightly filmed) locations, so it's harder for us in the audience to plant an emotional stake in this impersonal atmosphere. To sum up, it's probably a good thing that Eyes Of An Angel was never released to theaters. If it had been, it might have soured Quentin Tarantino enough to not give Travolta that chance of a comeback.

(Posted July 4, 2014)

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See also: The Golden Seal, Lonely Hearts, Sherlock: Undercover Dog