Monday, May 6, 2013

AVENGING ANGEL Hits the Streets of Hollywood for Some Wacky Antics

Avenging Angel (1985)
Director: Robert Vincent O'Neill
Rating: 4 / 10
Source: New World VHS

Avenging Angel returns to the streets of Hollywood four years after the events of Angel. In the original film, a high school student led a double life as a Hollywood hooker to support herself after the death of her parents. Pretty sleazy-sounding material, but the weirdest thing about it was how light-hearted it tried to be. Switching back and forth between Angel's life on the streets and the more commonplace drama of high school helped a bit, but it was the gang of goofy street performers that introduced most of the levity. It's a weird tone for a film that focuses on prostitution to take - particularly when the main character is a minor.

In Avenging Angel, nearly the whole gang is all back. Well, their characters are, anyway. Molly Stewart, a.k.a. Angel, is now played by Betsy Russell, after Donna Wilkes felt shortchanged by the first film and departed for the world of TV. In this film, Angel is finishing her pre-law studies when she learns of the murder of her old policeman friend and mentor Lt. Andrews. The only witness to the crime was a street performer named Johnny Glitter, who has what's by far the most annoying act on Hollywood Boulevard - he spouts vague sayings about peace and happiness and throws glitter around.

I mean, have you ever tried getting glitter off your clothes?
To track down Johnny and figure out who's responsible for the death of her friend, Angel heads back to the strip and reunites with all of her old street performer friends. There's Yo-Yo Charlie, a Chaplinesque figure who does tricks with... well, guess. There's also the far more interesting Solly, a foul-mouthed lesbian landlord and sculpture artist played by the fascinatingly over-the-top Susan Tyrrell. Rory Calhoun steps in as Kit Carson, a former western actor who suffers from dementia and acts as if he's a real-live cowboy. In the original, these characters were largely a reprieve from the gritty central plot about a serial killer who murdered hookers and sucked down raw eggs. Pretty graphic stuff on the whole, but effectively balanced by the warm-hearted family of misfits who cared for the young Angel. Here the street performers take center stage and reduce the movie to a comedy. It's kind of an unusual turn for the film to take, especially since it occurs not ten minutes after we watch a gang of thugs conduct a hit on an undercover cop and murder her entire family along with Angel's friend Lt. Andrews.

Goodbye, Grandma
Angel begins working the streets again in search of clues, while simultaneously using her new knowledge of the law to aid her efforts. This is actually a brilliant direction for the plot to take - no longer is she the poor neglected waif who has to sell her body to survive. She's fully empowered, fully educated, and knows how to use her body alongside the body of the law to get what she wants. This leads to some pretty inspired scenes - one of which takes place in the local Hall of Records as Angel (in her full hooker getup) does research into some fishy real-estate transactions while onlookers gape, aghast. When she's picked up by Vice along with a whole crowd of prostitutes and thrown into jail, she's able to get the whole lot freed by pointing out the specific statues the officers violated by hauling them in without just cause.

Developing Angel like this is a nice touch. It's just a shame that all the other characters remain stuck in their one-dimensional ruts. I realized about halfway through the film that the street performers never turn their act off. They're always in costume and always in character. As a result, they're more like cartoons than real people. Even when they appeared in the previous film, it was amongst various genuine specimens of street trash, but here there's no such thing. The only exception might be a minor sub-plot about a thirteen year-old runaway. Even this part is handled in a pretty over-the-top fashion, especially when a client carries her away as she counts a huge pile of cash...

Yeah, Vice will never notice that...
To push things farther along the comedy axis, the villians here are also giant caricatures: a father-son duo of evil real-estate barons who want to buy up property on the boulevard and gentrify it. For MONEY *cue cackling and maniacal laughter.* In case you doubt the extent of their evil, they're not opposed to negotiation tactics like this:

So even when the gang of heroes does something uncharacteristically dark like shoot the younger of the two in the head and deliver his corpse to his father in a wheelchair, it doesn't register as particularly awful because of the antics we've seen for the past hour and change. Is it just me, or is that sort of weird?

The Good:

The atmosphere - actually filming on Hollywood Boulevard really adds a lot to the movie. This was  filmed before the real-life revitalization of the district in the 90s, and it shows.

The gang of street performers is a pretty likable group of oddballs, with the exception of annoying newcomer Johnny Glitter.

The Bad:

I would have preferred more of the gritty sleaze of the first film as opposed to the Looney Tunes vibe that takes over here.

...the Hell?

Susan Tyrrell's facial expressions:

She makes this face for roughly 80% of the movie.
The Verdict:

This is a perfectly watchable sequel to Angel that'll probably hold your attention. Too bad it sacrifices any shreds of grittiness for goofy comedy that's at odds with all the sex and violence. Writer/director Robert O'Neill abandoned the series after this one. I think I'll do the same.

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