Her life is his job.
Sly and the Family Stowe.
Facts of the Case
My name's Frankie. Frankie Delano.
I'm a professional watcher.
That's what I do. I try to stay in the shadows and…watch.
The man who employs me is Angelo. Angelo Allieghieri, who is considered a
generous man by some, and a very bad man by others.
But good or bad, he is a father first and foremost, and has, for years,
had me watch his daughter, who by the way doesn't even know she's his daughter,
which really complicates things.
In the last few months, Angelo has been having me film messages to his
daughter. It's kind of like he's getting his life in order, which kind of makes
Like he knows something I don't.
I can't offer a better capsule commentary on Avenging Angelo than its co-screenwriter, Will Aldis, lets fly in an interview segment on the DVD: "I wrote the first draft. It wasn't very funny." Lesser men might well have said, "Okay, I wrote a script. It's not funny. I'll move on. Maybe a different script, or even a career in actuarial science, would be more my speed." But not Will Aldis. He took his not-funny script to a friend of his, Steve Mackall, who as best I can determine has built his reputation as a voice actor in such animated television classics as Mighty Ducks (the cartoon so good, they named a hockey team after it…or was that the other way around?) and Marsupilami (now that would be worth the price of admission—Sylvester Stallone struggling to pronounce "Marsupilami"). Aldis surrendered his magnum opus to Mackall, who, Aldis affirms, "made it much funnier." After all, the guy can make cartoon voices—he must be able to transform a not-funny script into a paragon of hilarity, right?
There, ladies and gentlemen, is Hollywood logic in a nutshell. Emphasis on "nut."
Avenging Angelo in its final form is still not very funny. To be honest, I'm not sure what exactly it is. Because it isn't funny, it's hard to call it a comedy, although that's apparently what the writers thought they had created. (I hate to bring this up, gentlemen, but flatulence as a comic device has pretty well exhausted its possibilities, don't you agree?)
Judging by the cover art, the studio believed this was a thriller: there's a grim-faced Stallone pointing a gun in the general direction of the camera, and the blurb on the back of the keep case is rife with such purple phrases as "tough as nails," "in cold blood," "run for their lives," and "murderous hit man." But the film isn't any more thrilling than it is comedic. Under the pedestrian direction of Martyn Burke (the Bill Gates TV biopic Pirates of Silicon Valley), Avenging Angelo really isn't much of anything, except Stallone and Stowe desperately clinging to their fading celebrity, with the final gasps of the once-mighty Anthony Quinn stirred in for good measure.
Poor Mr. Quinn. The final indignity of a fabled career: gunned down by the doofus from the Round Table Pizza commercials. Stallone, at least, gets the chance to do something different from his norm—yes, he's playing a Mafia gunsel, but a gunsel with a gentle, sensitive side—and does it surprisingly well. The venerable Stallone charisma remains intact, and he's sincere and believable. A better film about this same character might even have been a boost for Sly's fortunes, but as pleasantly competent as he is here, even his broad shoulders can't heft this mess into the realm of respectability. Stallone gets precious little help from co-star Madeleine Stowe, who seems as confused as I was as to the kind of movie this was supposed to be. Once a decent actress back in the early 1990s (Short Cuts, Twelve Monkeys), Stowe is content this time to channel one of the leads in Sex and the City with her shrill and shallow portrayal of a stereotypically dizzy socialite. She and Stallone work well together in their brief quiet moments, but Stowe is so irritating the rest of the time we almost wish Frankie would just shoot her instead of bodyguarding her.
DEJ Productions serves up this meatball on one of the most ineptly conceived DVDs ever devised. The disc offers both anamorphic and hack-'n'-scan transfers, as well as English soundtracks in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby stereo. Sounds accommodating, right? That is, until you figure out that the default mode is full screen in plain vanilla stereo. Wake up, DEJ folks—the 21st century is pushing kindergarten age. Give the Luddites the lesser options if you must, but make them work for it. Why would you not want your disc's standard setup to deliver its best possible presentation? Maybe because DEJ Productions is owned by Blockbuster, whose modus operandi demands never doing anything that makes a lick of sense, or that's good for film and people who know and understand it. [Editor's Note: No wonder they have ads for it plastered on the front of every store! Mystery solved.]
The anamorphic transfer is average at best. The main problems are a sort of general muddiness that afflicts every color—especially darker tones—and the fact that the palette runs too far into the red end of the spectrum to appear natural much of the time. Color balance and contrast are inconsistent. Also, there's more damage and debris on the source print than one would expect from a film this recent, though these defects, when they crop up, are minor for the most part.
The audio presentations offer little to boast about. Both the surround and the stereo track are so concretely focused in the front and center that one might as well save electricity and shut the outboard speakers off, even with the 5.1 mix in play. Rocky composer Bill Conti, who turned in a masterful score a few years ago for the Pierce Brosnan/Rene Russo remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, must have owed Stallone a favor—it's reflected in the halfhearted and repetitive effort he contributes here. French and Spanish dub tracks are included, but no subtitles in any language, which makes the action difficult to follow during the director's audio commentary.
Said commentary by Martyn Burke takes a routine, matter-of-fact approach. Burke hits all the important details and contributes a few interesting insights, especially related to the worsening condition of Anthony Quinn during the North American portion of the filming and the actor's death on the same day the location crew began lensing in Italy. Burke's observations are supplemented by a 21-minute documentary featurette that takes the word documentary to its literal extreme—it's mostly just raw footage from the Italian location, salted with voiceover by Burke and cinematographer Ousama Rawi, a man in as desperate a need of a new first name as anyone in Hollywood since Adolphe Menjou. So-called writers Will Aldis and Steve Mackall pitch in a ten-minute on-camera interview about their so-called development of the film's so-called screenplay.
If you haven't gorged yourself fully on Avenging Angelo insignifica by this point, you can wade through a pair of poorly produced trailers—in domestic and international flavors, which basically means the international trailer is even longer and more pretentious than the American version. These delights are in addition to the salvo of trailers (for such dubious pleasures as Picture Claire, Shot, Marines, and Special Forces) fired across your starboard bow the instant you pop the disc in your machine.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Memo to Madeleine Stowe: mercy sakes, woman, in the name of all that's decent, enough with the collagen already. Your lips are about to declare themselves an independent republic. The last place I saw lips that size was Easter Island. Or maybe Mount Rushmore. Oh, and Maddy—when one wears a tight-fitting, translucent white skirt, one does not wear dark-colored thong undergarments. I know the wardrobe guy told you it was a sexy look, but seriously…next time, follow your instincts and say "no."
The adjective that leaps most readily to mind when reflecting on the Avenging Angelo experience is "pathetic." That's as distinct from "offensive," "insulting," or "abominable," all of which are a trifle harsh. But as I watched the movie, I felt sorry for the people involved with it, because I'm sure they wanted to make a good film, and they hoped this would be one. It couldn't have been, given the limp, rudderless screenplay that began the process, and a budget that probably wouldn't have financed an episode of Friends, but you can at least see that the cast and crew gave this the old college try. Unfortunately, that college was Whassamatta U.
To paraphrase the immortal words of a Stallone co-star from the days when Sly was the King of the Box Office: I don't hate the people who made Avenging Angelo, but I pity the fools.
Avenging Angelo is found guilty of having not a single blessed clue what genre of film it's supposed to be, and for leaving the audience befuddled and bored. For birthing this haphazard brew, screenwriters Will Aldis and Steve Mackall are sentenced to write "Marsupilami" on the blackboard 1,000 times apiece. For flagrant abuse of collagen, Madeleine Stowe is sentenced to donate a plaster cast of her face to the factory that makes those red wax lips kids love. For getting in touch with his sensitive side and putting on an affecting performance despite long odds, Sylvester Stallone is free to go.
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