I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Avenging Angel

tn_avengingangelAVENGING ANGEL takes place 4 years after ANGEL. Lieutenant Andrews (now played by Robert F. Lyons) has become Angel (now played by Betsy Russell from DELTA HEAT and SAW III-VII)’s guardian and paid her way to leave the streets of Hollywood for a college somewhere a few hours away, where she’s studying law and excelling at track and field. She goes by Molly again and has a preppie boyfriend named Terry (Richard DeHaven, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) who doesn’t know about her past as a gun-toting teenage prostitute.

Everything seems great, but back in Chinatown a group of thugs storm an apartment and blow away an undercover associate of Andrews and some old folks. These are some evil motherfuckers. Look at this guy with the protective shades, how happy he is as they approach the apartment:

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Then he looks over at the other guys and sees that they look all serious so he tones it down. But once they start murdering he can’t contain his excitement. This guy loves what he does, I’ll give him that.

Andrews knows something is up and heads for the scene too late, and he gets shot too. And since this is an ANGEL movie, this is the guy on the street who witnesses the shooting, is too scared to get help and runs away:

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That would make sense as just a little detail, but it turns out to be a crucial plot point. Later described as “This… freaky looking guy. He had this glitter shit all over him,” he turns out to be named Johnny Glitter (played by Barry Pearl). They neglect to kill him on the scene and spend the rest of the movie coming after him as the sole witness.

mp_avengingangelOf course when Molly gets word about the death of Andrews she comes back to Hollywood and becomes Angel again so she can use her street connections to find out who the fuck did this and “get those bastards, so help me God.” Don’t worry – like in the first one, it doesn’t seem like she actually turns any tricks. She just leans into car windows and turns guys down.

She starts her mission by getting the band back together, specifically the members of the band who can still be played by the same actors. Yo-Yo (still Steven M. Porter) doesn’t at first know that Betsy Russell is subbing for Donna Wilkes. “You look terrific!” he says once he figures out who she is. “You’re… so different!” They go to her old lesbian landlord Solly (still Academy Award nominee Susan Tyrrell), who still loves suspenders and crazy hairstyles but has moved past painting to metal sculpture. Together they bust Kit Carson (still Rory Calhoun) out of the sanitarium, and then they find Johnny Glitter and they all drive around together in a hearse that Solly inherited from a former tenant. It starts to feel like THE WIZARD OF OZ, she’s picking up all these colorful characters along the way. But instead of going to see the wizard they unite all the street people to track down the shooters, who they figure out are part of a crooked businessman’s plot to “take over the boulevard vice” by buying out all the property. Andrews knew too much or something.

still_angel_pissantThe police are not helpful. They lock a bunch of them up until Angel peppers them with fancy lawyer talk about which articles and subsections of the law they’re violating. There’s a dirty cop trying to stop them and a clean one named Captain Moradian (Ossie Davis!) who just doesn’t want them taking the law into their own hands. He wants them to always do the right thing. Two different people refer to them as “a ragtag band of piss-ant vigilantes,” which would be a good subtitle for this one in my opinion.

The timeframe is funny. It is explicitly stated that 4 years have passed, and this must be true because she’s have enough time to go through college and to physically transform into a different person. But the movie came out only one year later. Movie history tells us that four years have not passed, because in part 1 the movies that were playing were 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI and BLUE THUNDER, and this one we got 1984’s TIGHTROPE and PURPLE RAIN:

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So I guess the way to take it is that it takes place in 1987 or 1988 but there has been a nostalgic re-release of TIGHTROPE and PURPLE RAIN.

One of the highlights of part 1 was when the transvestite Mae threw down with the serial killer. So this takes the bigger badder sequel approach by having two bad guys fight two transvestites! Solly has inherited a baby named Li’l Buck from a dead hooker, so she has two drag queens babysit him, and they end up getting attacked by the bad guy henchmen, and put up a good fight.

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There’s also alot more shooting in this one, starting with the attack on the undercover cop. It’s a really well constructed scene choreographed to a very ’80s club song with Oingo Boingo-esque horns. There’s a long build up as they head to their target and then the massacre is really over-the-top. An old lady cartoonishly bites her finger in fear before a shotgun load sends her into the air and slamming against a book shelf.

There’s a scene in a parking garage where the Captain has to shoot a guy that’s trying to kill Angel. He does that thing where he takes off his own suit coat and puts it over the body. I don’t understand why you’re supposed to do that in cop movies, especially for a scumbag like this. Seems like a waste of perfectly good clothing. You gotta save those coats for enemies who you have true respect for, at least as a warrior, like Bruce Lee when he killed that ol’ hairball Chuck Norris in WAY OF THE DRAGON.

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This is a worthy ANGEL sequel because of the amount of craziness that happens. For example our ragtag band of piss-ant vigilantes goes after one of the thugs and they don’t have to kill him themselves because he’s running away from them in a hallway, slips on a freshly mopped floor and falls out the window. That would be a great thing to happen in absolutely any movie, from a DIE HARD to LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, but it’s AVENGING ANGEL that it happens in, so let’s give it credit.

They gotta pull a WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S when they find out they need to trade Gerrard (Paul Lambert)’s son for the kidnapped baby moments after shooting him between the eyes. During the ensuing mayhem Gerrard dangles Li’l Buck over a balcony. Remember that notorious incident where Michael Jackson held his baby Blanket up over the edge of a balcony? It kinda blew my mind years later when I read someone claiming that he did it because it was an African tradition to hold up a baby like that, as seen in THE LION KING. I wasn’t sure he would really do it because of an African tradition, but I could buy that he was imitating THE LION KING. Well, now that I’ve seen this I know it would be all the more mindblowing if he actually did it as a reference to AVENGING ANGEL. You never know.

Anyway, this is a spoiler, but you will be happy to know that this is a movie where a guy drops a baby off a balcony and Rory Calhoun has to catch it. By that point it’s hard to notice that we never found out if she graduated college or told her boyfriend about her double life and weirdo friends. Or how the track season turned out.

Director/co-writer Robert Vincent O’Neill returned, his last directing other than an episode of a TV show called Lady Blue. Co-writer Joseph Michael Cala is back too. I’m glad they were involved, because they were able to get some of the same feel as the first one despite using a different actress. (I think they also used some of the same footage in the boulevard montages. That’s gotta be the same guy on the antique bicycle, right?)

I dig this weird PUNISHER approach of recasting the lead in each chapter. Russell is not as easygoing an actress as Donna Wilkes was. She has more awkward dialogue to deliver because of all the legal lingo, and she sounds alot stiffer. So I missed Wilkes, but I also like Russell, she has kind of a Lucinda-Dickey-in-NINJA-III type of aerobics instructor version of toughness that is fun in a movie like this. And somehow even though she’s a replacement she has a good old-friends chemistry with the three returning actors from part 1. They’re able to capture more of that oddball family feel that made the first one so lovable.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 at 3:02 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Avenging Angel”

  1. Great review, as usual. Funny. Fits the subject. This is such a weird movie. It keeps trying to go dark but Susan Tyrrell and Rory Calhoun are so over-the-top cartoony in it — the tone ping-pongs all over the place. That said, I doubt I can be entirely objective about a film starring Betsy Russell.

  2. It was nice to see Boy George as Johnny Glitter in this movie. I always suspected he’d make a good actor.

  3. The first place I saw that “hold up the baby” bit was “Roots” (the “12 Years a Slave” of its time), but there’s probably a stronger case to be made that the late King of Pop got the idea from “Lion King” instead, which probably ripped it off from “Roots.” The only thing I remember about “Avenging Angel” was expecting, for no good reason, that Betsy Russell would show some skin, and she didn’t. Robert F. Lyons earned his own star of weirdness as Skipper Todd in 1971’s “The Todd Killings.”

  4. Fred…I seem to remember Betsy baring the boobs in a movie called “Tomboy”.

    Dear God I was so in lust with her.

  5. This is the one that got me into ANGEL in the first place. I remember there being a lot more weirdos than Vern mentioned. Maybe it was all the glitter guy.

    Tomboy is pretty great too.

  6. I can not resist pointing that Betsy Russell was one fine, fine looking woman in the 1983 classic PRIVATE SCHOOl

  7. I very much agree with Griff on this point.

  8. Wait ’til you see who plays the role of Angel in the 1987 sequel ANGEL HEART!

  9. That sounds like the world’s most specific Buzzfeed headline.

  10. Is it three or four starting Mitzi Capture? My 13 year old brain had such a crush on her because of Silk Stalkings.

  11. “So I guess the way to take it is that it takes place in 1987 or 1988 but there has been a nostalgic re-release of TIGHTROPE and PURPLE RAIN.”

    Vern – someday you will take my suggestion of review all of Prince’s movies for shitz and gigglez. Hell if you’re really adventurous, you will bit torrent the DTV release 3 CHAINS O’ GOLD and the the rarely-seen THE UNDERTAKER movies that Prince made when he was at his most batshitiest at WB’s dime.

  12. I saw the movie when I was a kid and I still remember the first set-piece with the “’80s club song with Oingo Boingo-esque horns”, which is “Tell me why” by Bronski beat.

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