Downward Angel (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
|I had the same general attitude about
"Downward Angel" that I had about Jake Scott's "Plunkett
and Macleane". I really believe that the filmmakers are
capable of making great movies, but this ain't it yet.
This mob movie shows a lot of potential from some relative newcomers, and includes some stylistic elements that raise it a cut above most made-for-video material. In fact, L.A. Weekly reported that it was even picked up for a brief theatrical release. (Although if this is true, one must wonder why there is no widescreen version on the DVD.)
I'm afraid the basic plot line isn't going to impress you with its originality. John Hunter is an assassin-for-hire. One day, he is asked to escort the capo's sister to a party, and they end up making hot monkey love instead. The next day, he receives his next assignment, and wouldn't you know it, he's supposed to kill the capo's sister.
Doesn't makes sense, does it? If the capo wanted his sister dead, he wouldn't take a chance that the assassin would become personally involved with her. He would have ordered the hit without encouraging the previous night's monkeyshines. Hunter doesn't seem to sense that there is anything fishy about this, but is predictably unable to take the killer shot. He ends up rescuing the woman from the back-up assassin, then making plans to help her escape.
|We later find out that
the reason it didn't make sense is that it was some kind of test. In
fact, the capo and his sister are in league with each other, but by
the end of the movie it turns out that everyone is double-crossing
everyone else, nothing is as it seems, and nobody is exactly what they pretend to be.
In fact, the plot has a giant gaping error in it. It turns out that Hunter is really an undercover cop, and his father-in-law later asks him, "how could you pretend to be a hit man without actually killing anyone?". Yes, that would be a problem, wouldn't it? But the bigger problem is that we actually saw him assassinate someone on camera while he himself was being watched, and he has been brooding and going to confession all along because he's riddled with guilt about what he did. He even tried to commit suicide over his guilt, but he couldn't pull the trigger.
So the problem is this. If he did actually kill people for the mob, won't that all come out later during the trials? Cops aren't allowed to do this when they are undercover, are they? If he didn't actually kill anyone, why didn't the movie explain to us in some way how it was possible for us to see him pulling a trigger while a victim got a bullet in his forehead? I never did figure it out.
And there are several instances in this film which make use of the oldest cliché in the mystery book. "Well, since you have the drop on me and are going to kill me anyway, at least you could tell me the plot points I don't grasp. And make it loud and simple, so the audience can hear and understand."
The merit of the film comes not from the basic plotline, but from the free-wheeling sense of style.
Jonathan Banks plays the mob boss in a demented, larger than life portrayal in the Tarantino mold. "Did you know I can name 18 different ways to kill a man with a chain? Just a little bit of trivia, there. I'm feeling kinda generous today"
|The direction is
a comic book come to life. Large foreground objects very close to the
camera, filmed from an off-kilter angle, with distant backgrounds
showing some action. The entire film plays out like a Silver Surfer
comic, filled with religious metaphors, meditations on death, and a
kind of Miami Vice sense of being hipper-than-thou, backed by an
effective techno-pop score.
Is it good? No, not really. It has too many genre clichés and loopholes, and it is too self-consciously arty and angst-laden, but it shows some flashes of brilliance that indicate future successes for the director, the cinematographer, and the young star. I was occasionally impressed, and that doesn't happen often with a straight-to-vid. The team managed to take a same-old script and give it a distinctive flavor.
This is not your film if you demand the actual steak. But if you just love the sizzle, this has plenty of it, not to mention an explicit love scene.
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