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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 12.12%
Average: 6.06%
Pretty Bad45.45%
Total Crap: 27.27%

3 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Avenging Angelo
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by Jack Sommersby

"Another Nail in Sylvester Stallone's Career Coffin"
1 stars

Tries to be a black comedy sprinkled with action, but comes across like it's sprinkled with grade-A horseshit instead.

Poor Sylvester Stallone. After his box-office stamina started to considerably wean after his back-to-back 1993 successes Cliffhanger (passable) and Demolition Man (extraordinary), he was reduced to having his serial-killer thriller Eye See You (godawful) sporadically released to North American theatres last year. Now on disgusting display in stores is Stallone's nadir: the black comedy Avenging Angelo, which marks the first film of his to go direct to home video. To be fair, it's not exactly an artistic cop-out on the star's part -- it's a brave attempt at trying something unusual and atypical of his fans' expectations -- but it's still a monumentally lousy film, with such mind-numbingly bad dialogue, absurd situations, and lackluster direction that it leaves the audience in a state of certifiable catatonia throughout. To give you a lowdown on the lame story, Stallone plays Frankie Delano, a professional bodyguard for a powerful business tycoon, Angelo Allieghieri (Anthony Quinn), who is murdered in a mob hit. Frankie feels guilty over allowing his longtime employer to bite the bullet -- after all, he just happened to be trying to charm a traffic cop out of giving him a parking ticket right outside the restaurant where it went down (ingenious scriptwriting, no?) -- and he sees fit to carry out an obligation he swore to: protecting Angelo's daughter, Jennifer (Madeleine Stowe), who he's been keeping discreet safeguard tabs on for years. There's a problem, though: Jennifer is oblivious to the fact that Angelo was her real father (don't ask), and she doesn't exactly warm to Frankie's around-the-clock presence. Suffice to say: they bicker; they eventually fall in love.

I've no idea how we're intended to respond to the character of Jennifer. She's married to a rich man, lives in a posh estate, has a child, and she acts like a ditz from the get-go. Perhaps she's intended to be bewildered at how lousy her domestic life is, but nothing of the sort is really suggested from the onset to suggest such an extroverted and bizarre characterization, so when she later walks in on her husband as he's shagging one of her socialite friends, our sympathies actually extend to him. And when Frankie tries valiantly to warm up to her, we're stuck watching the game Stallone trying to get a workable rapport going with the classically miscast Stowe, who's to broad comedy what a drunk is to fumbling about for his car keys. (Also, her hairstyle here is simply ferocious.) There's nothing particularly wrong with a character having been written as an eccentric, but when the eccentricity is the predominating nature of the character, this creates a trapdoor for an unwise thespian to overdo things, and Stowe (who made a sexy, first-rate debut as the object of Richard Dreyfuss' elicit desires in 1987's excellent Stakeout) falls face-first into a grating, obnoxious performance that derails an already-shaky film. Almost every time Frankie attempts something cordial, a toad seems to fly out of the disapproving Jennifer's mouth, and with zero chemistry between the two leads, there's little reason for the audience to give a damn about anyone or anything in the seemingly endless ninety-six-minute running time. Basically, Jennifer has to act like an unbearable jerk from the beginning so she can be transformed into an appealing non-jerk in the end. It's Screenwriting -.0001, folks.

In John Landis' Oscar, a 1991 mobster comedy which played out on a much broader level, the laughs were sporadic, yes (as they are in every damn film Landis directs), but there was a good deal of ragamuffin charm in seeing Stallone toy with his tough-guy screen image by playing a blowhard crime boss whose daughter's upcoming marriage to a meek accountant turned him into an emotional wreck; his inability to control his feisty daughter (well-played by Marisa Tomei) made him into a perceived pushover by his goon associates, and his embarrassment and desperate attempts to assert control over the situation were very funny and revealed a tender side to Stallone -- he clued you into the character's lonely, paternal side that recognized the hurt he was inflicting on his daughter but was too inflexible to go about things in a more gentle manner. And Stallone's comic timing was first-rate in a tricky role -- he was loud but never uncouth, touching without milking the pathos. In Avenging Angelo, Stallone's been required to give a much more minimally scaled performance, and his underplaying is both vivid and very appealing. He eases his way into his line readings -- he doesn't merely speak a line like it's the next one scripted -- and the deliberate tempo of his delivery does a beautiful job of suggesting a man who isn't too wise on the idiosyncrasies of modern romantic relationships -- he needs an extra second or two to contemplate the implications before he speaks. It's quite a modest star turn. But Stowe is too grating and lacking in variety to mesh well with his laid-back approach, and this creates a fatal chasm between the two that severs the narrative spine of the film from which it's never able to compensate for.

The screenplay is a first-timer for both Will Aldis and Steve MacKall, and their inexperience shows. Taking the prime-time television route, they've affixed virtually every scene with its own climax, so the characters never seem to be behaving plausibly because the incidents come off as shaping them, and not the other way around. And the director, Martyn Burke, whose only other film I've seen is a clunky futuristic action flick called The Last Chase (with Lee Majors), has no idea how to properly set up a gag nor locate the dramatic emphasis in a scene. If Burke didn't want to borrow anything from Oscar, then he could have at least borrowed some from Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob, which was not only better written but was colorfully executed and boasted an array of characters who were all vivid and had a chance to shine. Basically, the direction here merely records the action, rather than pointing it up and expounding upon it; and the visual scheme and compositions are of the killjoy variety to be found in one of those industrial training videos -- this is the dullest-looking use of the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio I've seen since, well, Denzel Washington's trite Antwone Fisher. To make a mobster comedy is to take on a huge responsibility, because, in light of all the ones preceding it, the filmmakers must either transcend cliche (which takes vision and the passion to carry it off) or sidestep it altogether (which takes an original artist who can both create and lend organic credence to ideas); but the filmmakers here seem completely indifferent to entertaining an audience -- they sublimate the color and energy we come to expect while failing to compensate with inspired touches, which wouldn't excuse the plodding manner of the presentation but would at least give us something in return.

While Avenging Angelo is an honorable failure compared to the stale Analyze That (or Analyze This, for that matter), it's far less tolerable because its excruciatingly slow pacing gives you too much downtime to develop a deep-seated resentment for it, whereas Analyze That moves forth in such an impersonal yet smooth manner that nothing from it stays on the screen long enough to congeal into something rank. Casual home-video renters are going to be quite misled by the DVD's cover art, which indicates an action-packed thrill ride, so with its few action sequences incompetently staged (the use of slo-mo is supposed to disguise Stallone's body double; it doesn't) the film is in big trouble, especially since the two stars never get an appealing rapport going, and the jokes (which include some of the sub-barnyard toilet variety) fall thuddingly flat. Avenging Angelo possibly could have succeeded had it been more intelligent and less cinematic, or technically superb and just mediocre on the screenplay level. But it's bad on both counts, and you're left to wonder if maybe Sylvester Stallone, a fabulously wealthy star, should ride out the remainder of his career by being choosy with his projects (which, of course, he can afford to do) or just retire and chalk up his failures (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot; The Specialist) as ill-advised pit stops along a career path that has given us a good many juicy entertainments (the Rocky and Rambo series, to name just a few) that we'll be happy to remember him by. A couple more all-out disasters like Avenging Angelo, and he might find himself entering Jean-Claude Van Damme territory; in fact, he's already halfway there with his films going straight to video, yet not quite to the point where he's contemplating appearing on a reality television show. Is this film that bad? Very.

Go back and re-watch the awesome "Demolition Man", or "Oscar", or "Tango and Cash", or "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot", or....

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originally posted: 06/09/03 10:01:20
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User Comments

3/22/11 GEORGE B. FEIST Madeline fan....she overacts in this...bigtime 3 stars
7/29/07 David I always love the ones the critics hate. Very Entertaining. 4 stars
5/14/07 mr.mike as simon would say , absolutely dreadful. 1 stars
10/01/06 Charles Tatum Sometimes works, mostly painful 2 stars
8/08/06 Toecutter Lightweight action/comedy. Non-Stallone fans need not apply. 5 stars
1/14/06 JM Synth It was pretty good 4 stars
7/15/04 Mick The die-hard Stallone fans will like it. 4 stars
5/01/04 Marisa Monroe Stallone and Stowe make a great team. 5 stars
4/21/04 Adam Thank goodness it was a free rental deal, complete shite 2 stars
2/23/04 Jake this movie sucks if you rent it your a waste of good air 1 stars
9/08/03 michael thought it was great film 4 stars
8/19/03 s not bad 5 stars
8/07/03 Cy Vierra If all you are looking for is a light hearted story then this movie isn't all that bad. 3 stars
6/20/03 J. Addison Painful to watch. 2 stars
6/17/03 ford kelsey Quinn is uninteligible, Stowe is unfunny and horribly miscast, Stallone looks bored. 1 stars
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  20-May-2003 (R)



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