Avenging Angelo (2002): Lynch Mob

Matty goes to bat for an infamous Sylvester Stallone clunker that — shock horror — actually ain’t that bad.

Announced in May 2000, three and a half months after their poorly received remake of Get Carter (1971) wrapped, and just before their equally reviled F1 drama, Driven (2001), started shooting, AVENGING ANGELO was the third and final collaboration between Sylvester Stallone and Franchise Pictures — well, sort of. With the FBI’s fraud squad circling the outfit in light of some, erm, ‘creative accounting’, Franchise’s co-founder, nightclub magnate turned mogul Elie Samaha, hopped into bed with producer Tarak Ben Ammar and formed a shell company called Dante Entertainment to bring the shingle’s next batch of movies to life. The plan was to dodge Franchise’s mounting legal troubles but it didn’t work; upon completion, Avenging Angelo was dumped straight-to-video as Samaha’s house of cards collapsed. Gracing the big screen in Europe and Asia, Avenging Angelo hit tape and disc in America via Columbia-TriStar. Here in the U.K. it was issued by High Fliers and then, later, budget specialists Boulevard.  

Naturally, reviews and press at the time were scathing — and beyond shady Samaha’s dodgy dealings, it was Stallone who shouldered the brunt of the criticism. Despite achieving a career high only a few years earlier thanks to his bravura turn in James Mangold’s Cop Land (1997), Sly was now ruled a bust. Circa Cop Land, the star had been actively trying to shed his action man image with a series of meaty dramatic roles, but each film — which, in addition to the aforementioned Get Carter (2000) and Driven, also included serial killer thriller D-Tox (2002) — was more lambasted than the last. Avenging Angelo was seen as the final nail in his career’s coffin. Unfair bandwagon jumping if you ask me. While Avenging Angelo isn’t without flaws, this nice romantic dramedy is, like its Franchise stablemates and the much-maligned D-Tox, better than its reputation would have you believe.

An engaging and often sweet look at family ties, fatherhood, and redemption in the guise of an Analyze This (1999) and Whole Nine Yards (2000) mob farce (the latter, of course, another Franchise flick and one of only two movies by them to make any money at the box office [1]), Stallone headlines as Frankie Delano: the loyal bodyguard of the titular mafioso, Angelo Allieghieri (Anthony Quinn in his last role [2]). Considering Angelo a father figure, Frankie helps the aging don record a series of video messages for his estranged daughter, Jennifer (Madeleine Stowe), and has been covertly keeping an eye on her for most of her adult life — always at a distance as Jennifer, who was adopted at birth, has no idea who her real parents are. However, when Angelo is whacked, Frankie steps forward, clueing Jennifer in on her lineage and offering his services when it becomes clear that the rival syndicate behind her pop’s assassination want her dead too…

Despite the words ‘Stallone’, ‘mafia’ and ‘comedy’ initially triggering flashbacks to Oscar (1992), Avenging Angelo is more likable than John Landis’ obnoxious clunker — which, as it happens, was a previous attempt by Sly to reinvent himself. Well-made and pleasingly low-key, Avenging Angelo is directed with a light, easygoing touch by Canadian journeyman Martyn Burke that places its gently sparkling script front and centre — though there are a handful of surreal, fourth wall-breaking cutaways that reinforce the film’s quirky undercurrent. Housing a wealth of genuine chuckles, enough of them land to atone for those that crash and burn (specifically, an extended bit built around a load of cringe-inducing gay panic that seems antiquated even by early ‘00s standards of casual homophobia).

Performance-wise, Stallone is excellent. If the rest of the film wasn’t as enjoyable as it is, Avenging Angelo would be worth watching for Sly’s turn alone. The droller, quieter foil to Stowe’s louder kooky-cutie routine (shades of vintage Goldie Hawn), he elicits a tremendous amount of mirth — but it’s the understated way in which Stallone presents a tough guy madly in love with someone yet unsure how to tell them that resonates. He captures the all-consuming feeling of unrequited love perfectly. Happily, it’s eventually reciprocated — and no, that’s not a spoiler. You can see it coming a mile off.

USA/Canada ● 2002 ● Comedy, Drama, Romance ● 94mins

Sylvester Stallone, Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Quinn ● Dir. Martyn Burke Wri. Steve Mackall, story by William Porter

[1] The other was the Steven Seagal-starring Half Past Dead (2002).
[2] Quinn was dying of throat cancer during the film’s making. I defy anyone not to tear up a little when he softly whispers “Everybody’s going somewhere” in an exchange with Stallone about mortality.

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