In ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER, the chapter after the final chapter, Angel rises from the streets to invade the corporate world. “Executive by day, hooker by night. From the boardroom to the bedroom.” Cool idea, right? Seems like a very ’80s idea, but it was still the early ’90s, it wasn’t too late to explore those still relevant themes of corruption and cruelty hidden behind mirrored skyscrapers and fancy clothes.
I should specify, that’s what the box of ANGEL 4 is about. The movie itself is a standalone story where she’s not an executive and there’s no boardroom (or bedroom, really) and she doesn’t look like the same lady on the cover and doesn’t become a hooker again. But you know, you gotta let the marketing people express themselves too. They had a story they felt like they were born to tell, and they just had to let it out.
Damn. The ANGEL saga started out so promising. Unfortunately this 1993 follow-up is more like a shitty TV movie going undercover as an ANGEL movie, and quickly getting its cover blown.
This time Molly “Angel” Stewart is played by Darlene Vogel, later of the TV show Pacific Blue. To a certain type of nerd she might mean something because I guess she played somebody named “Spike” in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II and also “Heather – ITF Spokesperson” on BACK TO THE FUTURE… THE RIDE.
These days Molly is blond. She’s still working as a crime scene photographer, now in California again, and in a steady relationship with a corny radio DJ who looks like Paul Reiser (Mark DeCarlo, whose next credit after this is SAVED BY THE BELL: WEDDING IN LAS VEGAS). Also she has depth because she enjoys the poetry now, and is planning to go to a reading (though we never see this).
The boyfriend is a big dork who always wants to watch videos with her. He says “I’ll bring the HELLRAISER video” and in another part he shows that he owns REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (which is weird since that’s from the same director as ANGEL III, but he’s not involved in this one). The boyfriend’s part in the movie is mostly being upset because Molly doesn’t return his calls and he doesn’t see her enough. Because she’s Undercover.
It all comes about when she runs into another one of her dearest street friends who we’ve never seen in the previous three movies. Paula (Kerrie Clark, who played a hooker in MIAMI BLUES and was on the TV show Dream On) was like a little sister to her who she protected. There’s one conversation about some photos Molly took that might be a reference to part III when we heard she was trying to do a photo book about street kids. Continuity!
Now Paula’s gotten clean and is happy dating the bass player for a band called AK-47 but trying to get with the lead singer Piston Jones (Shane Fraser) even though he already has a controlling girlfriend named Jade (Sam Phillips, PHANTASM II, DOLLMAN) and has become a crazed pill addict since the overdose death of his previous girlfriend. Coincidentally this same band’s management are currently threatening her boyfriend and his co-workers because they accepted payola but are not playing the band a suspicious 3 times an hour as agreed. In fact, Molly just photographed the dead body of a DJ who fell off the roof being chased by the record label’s enforcer (Patrick Kilpatrick, BEST OF THE BEST 2, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, THE SUBSTITUTE: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION). I don’t think she ever makes the connection (an homage to part III’s connected-but-she-doesn’t-notice opening casino raid?)
Molly decides to become Angel again when Paula turns up dead in a dumpster and she hears a cop saying “Another dead hooker. You’d think they’d learn,” and then immediately changing the subject to “You know, you can’t get a good bagel in this town.” We know that Piston tried to sex Paula up, then snapped and strangled her with a guitar string, but Angel doesn’t know this. So she goes undercover as a groupie and capture’s Piston’s heart by purposely dressing like his dead girlfriend. She falls for him and doesn’t think he did it but does not investigate any other leads or consider any other suspects. And it’s implied through editing that she immediately fucks him (sorry, VHS watching boyfriend).
Creating a fake great rock and roll band for a movie is always a losing proposition, and especially when the movie is low budget and not good and made during an awkward era of popular music. There’s no Hollywood Boulevard footage and no theater marquees in this one, the time period is marked by the radio station’s posters for Nine Inch Nails, Metallica and Faith No More. I guess AK-47 are supposed to fit into that transitional period between glam metal and “alternative rock.” Judging from the name, Piston must’ve been intended as an Axl Rose type, but he seems more like a model. He’s a muscular dude always playing with his long hair, keeping his shirt open to show off his nipple ring.
There’s exactly one part where he seems like he’s supposed to be a joke. After cheating on his girlfriend he answers a phone call from her. “Did you have a good fuck?” she asks.
“It was okay,” he says innocently. “Who is this?”
Other than that it seems like maybe you’re supposed to think this idiot is interesting and complex. Molly is impressed by his quoting of Rimbaud and Sylvia Plath, and when she finds out he went to Juilliard. She’s moved by his acoustic guitar playing and he laments that his audience would never accept it (which I don’t buy, it’s not like the bullshit he’s playing is exactly rattling their skulls). I think maybe we’re supposed to take him seriously as a darkly troubled artist. When he and Jade get into tearful fights I’m sure they were thinking of Sid and Nancy, and thinking Sid and Nancy were cool.
In defense of actor Shane Fraser, he does seem to really play guitar and he performs and writes the songs himself. To me they’re terrible but they seem to fit into that type of music of that time. It’s just not my thing.
Of course you also have to deal with a ridiculous portrayal of the music industry. AK-47 have threatened their way into being played 3 times an hour, but their song is still only #3, and Molly, who meets her boyfriend at the radio station every day under an AK-47 poster, has never heard of them. Still, they’re often referred to as this big deal on the verge of exploding. But they seem to perform almost nightly at this one small bar, where they also seem to live and rehearse all day and film part of the video they’re working on. They have a large entourage of hoes but the only label or management people are the one enforcer guy and the evil head of the label, Roddy McDowall playing a role where you gotta figure they meant to call Malcolm McDowell.
This just doesn’t feel like an ANGEL movie at all. It’s partly the era’s fault. For the most part the low budget filmmaking of the early ’90s was more polished than it had been in the ’80s, in a bad way. I’m not a fan of the way this kinda shit looks and sounds, the type of studio rock music on the soundtrack and cheesy video effects on the credits. I suppose it’s a time capsule just like the other ones but it captures an aesthetic I’d rather forget. I know everybody was in it for the money, but the people doing these movies in the ’80s seem like they went out there and busted their balls trying to figure out how to make a real movie. This seems more like a routine day job of making Movie With Hint of Boobs #2437B. They seem like factory workers who know how to churn out passable cable fodder. There’s no grit and no life that gets on camera, it’s all sets that have been used on a thousand TV shows and movies. They never went out onto an actual street and found interesting people to shoot, it’s all girls with big hair and lacy bras that waited in a long line to audition.
Also, this is the only ANGEL movie without any transvestites or street performers.
Not only does this lack the heart, personality, style, texture and location of the first two ANGEL movies, but this fourth incarnation of the character doesn’t have any of the toughness she started with. There’s a part where she twists a girl’s arm to break up a catfight, but that’s it. She doesn’t carry a gun or have to fight anyone after that. There is no revenge or vigilantism, just collecting of evidence that clearly will not even be remotely considered in a court of law, and then convenient accidental death when she tries to stop Piston from committing suicide during a video shoot. Actually, there’s one funny climactic kill: she accidentally falls off a tall structure, then Jade tries to jump on her and she holds up a broken guitar, impaling her.
Not surprisingly this is an all new set of filmatists not involved in the previous ANGEL pictures. Director “George Axmith” is a pseudonym for Richard Schenkman. He had previously done a blooper video called SNAFU: THE WORLD’S SCREWIEST FOUL-UPS!, two Playboy videos and 2 LUSTY LIAISONS movies, but this is the one he wanted to put a fake name on. He later did JEROME BIXBY’S THE MAN FROM EARTH and more recently the Asylum movie ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES. The writers were Dode B. Levenson (CHILDREN OF THE CORN III: URBAN HARVEST) and Frank Chance (nothing else).
I’m sorry to say that I completely understand why this is not on DVD and not included in The Angel Collection. It adds nothing to the series. The only thing I got out of it was practice being patient and the satisfaction of completism. If you don’t have that same compulsion I say just watch the first two in the series. Cool cover, though.
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.