Editor’s Note: This is part of our week-long tribute to the films of Sylvester Stallone. You’ll find links to several more reviews of his films, within. If you don’t see your favorite mentioned, enter the title into the search box to your left; chances are, we reviewed it.
Mention “Sylvester Stallone” in the same breath as “mafia” and your mind dreams up a hitman-action flick in the tradition of The Transporter. You might even flash back to his own F.I.S.T, his first post-Rocky film.
If it was ‘80s Stallone, yes. But this is 21st century Stallone 2.0.
Avenging Angelo is a mafia rom-com in the tradition of Prizzi’s Honor (1985, Jack Nicholson), Married to the Mob (1988, Michelle Pfeiffer), Stallone’s own film, Oscar (1991), and director Billy Wilder’s hit starring Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis, Some Like It Hot (1959). Opinions vary on this Stallone-fronted parody of The Godfather and Goodfellas having an analogous chemistry to those earlier mob comedies, but the one absolute truth of the film: Stallone once again shows he’s a skilled actor who deserved to have a breakout hit with one of the dramas, thrillers, and comedies he attempted in the early 2000s.
Avenging Angelo was one of six films released between Cop Land (1997) and Shade (2003) when Sly valiantly—and skillfully—attempted to shed his he-man action image with more insightful and introspective characters. Sadly, all of those attempts failed at the box office and Sly saw his career sliding into direct-to-DVD territory alongside the careers of Bruce Willis, Eric Roberts, and Nicolas Cage (see Precious Cargo, Lone Star Deception, and Arsenal, respectively). So when Avenging Angelo became the second straight-to-video U.S release for Sly after D-Tox, the writing was on the wall: he returned to the action films that made him famous: Rocky Balboa, Rambo, The Expendables, Bullet to the Head, and Escape Plan.
Avenging Angelo, which returned Stallone to his previous action-comedy attempts of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) and Tango & Cash (1989), received a limited theatrical release in Italy and Greece—thanks to it starring Anthony Quinn, who’s highly revered throughout Europe (his career went from an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1956’s Lust for Life to a Golden Raspberry for Supporting Actor in 1992’s Mobsters). Sadly, Quinn was dying of terminal throat cancer while Avenging Angelo was being filmed—and died before it was released. So when Quinn utters the line “Everybody’s going somewhere” in the film’s initial restaurant scene, it becomes one of the saddest scenes in cinema—on par with Edward G. Robinson’s turn in Soylent Green, in which Robinson hid his terminal bladder cancer during filming and died shortly after the influential apocalyptic flick was completed.
Stallone is the kindhearted (remember, this is a comedy) Frankie Delano who takes offense at being called a bodyguard: he’s a “watcher” who fails in his duties protecting mob boss Angelo Allieghieri (Anthony Quinn) against a hitman named Bruno (Pittsburgh’s (!) Billy Cardell of CBS-TV’s Mike and Molly . . . getting the drop on Sly Stallone? No way, Sly!). Guilt ridden over Angelo’s death, Frankie comes to protect Angelo’s screwball daughter, Jennifer, who now has a contract put out on her by the same people who wanted her father dead. The comedic chase—with a smattering of blood n’ bullets . . . and kisses n’ babies—is on.
And as another example of a film being whatever a distributor wants it to be, the overseas trailer markets Avenging Angelo as a Terence Hill-styled (see 1980’s Super Fuzz) screwball Italian comedy, while the U.S version markets the film—because of Stallone’s presence—as an action film. And speaking of its domestic distribution: DEJ Productions, who saved Stallone’s D-Tox from the Universal vaults, distributed the DVD version in Blockbuster stores, along with additional airings on the Starz and Showtime cable channels (I got my DVD copy from my local library’s annual Book Fair for a buck).
So what is the film, really?
Some have said, because of Madeleine Stowe’s comedic tour-de-force, Avenging Angelo is a chick-flick bordering on the sometimes groan-inducing slapstick (which plays better in Europe than America), more so than a male-appealing action flick, which plays better in America.
How far does the zany and madcap tomfoolery go?
Sly blames a fart on “bloated squirrels suck in the walls” (CLIP) and Madeleine Stowe gets revenge on a mob boss by stripping out of a tight red dress (no nudity, natch) and gives the old dude a heart attack (CLIP), complete with a rising-beeping heart monitor. So, if you liked Stallone’s celluloid nemesis Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarden Cop, and your mobsters mixed with comedy, then Avenging Angelo is for you. It’s not an award winner . . . and it’s not a Razzie winner, either. Stallone fans won’t feel cheated.
Film geeks, especially budding screenwriters and directors, who supplement their film school studies with DVD commentaries, will enjoy the passionate, entertaining and education commentary track provided by director Martyn Burke, which really gets into the nuts and bolts of the film. Digging even deeper is the unproduced, raw footage vignettes that go behind the scenes of the shoot (Part 1 and Part 2). Yes . . . we are talking about the same Martyn Burke who gave us the abysmal, Canadian early-slasher The Clown Murders (1976) starring John Candy , in addition the Lee Majors post-apoc bomb, The Last Chase.
Considering the studio and producers behind the project lost faith in the film and eschewed a U.S. domestic theatrical release or Euro-theatre plays beyond Greece and Italy, instead selling the film to DEJ Productions for non-theatrical distribution, the DVD is exceptionally well packaged beyond just burning the film to disc and calling it a day, as is the case with most low-budget films dumped into the home video marketplace. If anything, Avenging Angelo is worth watching for Anthony Quinn’s final screen performance.
You can reminisce with Anthony Quinn as he wins The Golden Globes’ 1987 Cecil B. DeMille Award, along with his interview with Jay Leno in 1991 and Johnny Carson in 1983, and Eileen Prose for Good Day!, Boston’s long-running morning show on WCVB-TV.