The Lost Angel (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
The Lost Angel is a grim police procedural about the investigation of some serial killings which seem to have profound religious, perhaps satanic, undertones. Like SE7EN, it uses the police story as a vehicle to carry a morbid character study of the life of the demented killer and some of the others in his sphere of influence. It isn't a great movie, even by the reduced standards of straight-to-video fare, but unlike most of the formulaic films which get churned out for the home video market, this one is not a write-off. It is not predictable trash from the assembly line, but rather a film with some very good ideas offset by others not as good, and possessing parts better than its whole.
The lead character is the usual tough renegade cop who doesn't play by the rules. We've seen that in hundreds of earlier films and TV productions, but two factors make this time different. This maverick cop is (1) much farther from the rules than usual; and (2) a beautiful woman. The gender switch gives a new power to the usual scenes. During what she considers to be an unfair interrogation by an internal affairs guy, she beats up the investigator, after provoking him into throwing the first punch. There's nothing so daring about the concept, but the scene is very powerful because of her gender. The film also has the guts to go beyond the usual familiar scenes. During one particularly intense interrogation, she tells the other cops to turn off any recording devices, and goes in alone with the suspect. At gunpoint, she makes him strip, then she gives him a complimentary lap dance complete with dirty talk. His reaction (or, um, lack thereof) tells her that he is not the man they're looking for.
The ultra-tough lady cop could have made for a very effective device if the screenwriter had managed to make those scenarios believable. Unfortunately, he did not. The suspect I described above was innocent, mind you, yet he was not only subjected to that brutalization in front of several other police officers, but he was also framed with planted drugs. What do you suppose he and his lawyer will be discussing when he is released? Oh yeah, and the cop just happens to keep a locker full of heroin and unregistered firearms, all to be used to frame suspects or to bribe desperate junkies into becoming informers. It's bad enough that all of those activities are done while the police captain winks and looks the other way, but they are also done during the course of an ongoing IA investigation!
Oh, by the way, the IA guy was investigating an incident in which our tough gal allegedly shot an unarmed suspect and planted a gun on him to vindicate her action. Not only did she really do those things, but the suspect turned out to be obviously innocent when another murder was committed while the suspect was getting that very gunshot wound treated in the hospital. She later offers the rationalization that she might have collared the right guy -maybe the second murderer was a copycat! Think about that - a copycat who just happens to know details which have not yet become public, and who just happens to share the real murderer's ability to write comprehensible messages in the cuneiform pictographs of ancient Sumeria. Yeah, that's a plausible theory.
Did I mention that during the first investigation a priest suddenly appears on the crime scene from nowhere, and that he's carrying an FBI ID? The amazing thing is that if the copycat theory had been even remotely possible, the only possible copycat would have been the fed/priest, who knew the details of the first murder, and who could read cuneiform. Although the lady cop was imaginative enough to conceive of the bizarre copycat idea, she was not able to see the obvious and inevitable conclusion forced by that theory!
The rogue lady cop was actually plausible compared to one of the material witnesses who was also briefly a suspect. That happened to be a deaf priest who refused to provide the investigators with information supposedly obtained during confession. If you were a trained investigator and a natural skeptic, wouldn't you be curious to know how a deaf priest can hear confession? Such a scenario is technically permissible, if both the priest and penitent agree, but confession traditionally takes place in a small room where the anonymity of the sinner is protected by darkness as well as by a screen separating him from the priest. Given the customary privacy of that ritual, do you think that many Catholics are going to come voluntarily into a well-lit room and allow the priest to see their faces so that he can lip-read their sins? The inspector is not curious about this, nor even vaguely suspicious that the priest is claiming the confessional privilege improperly. She's simply pissed off that a priest would withhold any evidence that might save people's lives, sacred vows be damned!
In addition to the script's credibility problems, it simply tries to incorporate too many familiar and hackneyed elements.
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Some of the reviewers and IMDb commenters also objected to the seemingly illogical surprise twists at the ending of the film. The first of these two twists did not bother me so much. I was not surprised to find that one of the police's usual stoolies, who was supposedly completely unrelated to this particular crime, was the murderer. There are three reasons why I suspected that might be the case. (1) He had a lot of screen time, thus invoking the rule of economy of characters. (2) The police officers mentioned many times that he seemed to have almost supernatural insight into the case, and were constantly arguing about whether to bring him in and make him reveal the source of his uncannily accurate tips. (3) The deaf priest finally confessed that somebody might be trying to harm him, and the killer might be a son he fathered in violation of his vows, and subsequently abandoned to be raised in an orphanage. The stoolie mentioned that he was raised in an orphanage.
So I was ready for that one. The second twist, however, took me by complete surprise. Not only was the homeless stoolie the murderer, and the son of the deaf priest, but he didn't even exist!
You see, the stoolie was simply the product of the deranged mind of one of the cops - in fact, the lady cop's partner (and her lover in the gratuitous sex scene). It turned out that one of the investigating cops was actually the killer, as well as the son of the ever-cryptic deaf priest. The other cops eventually had to gun him down.
There was nothing in the script that led me to suspect that the stoolie was imaginary, or that the cop had mental problems, or that the cop committed the crimes, so in a sense I can see why other reviewers found the final epiphany bewildering and annoying. But I forgave that operatic plot twist for one reason. I thought it was really cool, and not entirely impossible. In the context of a better overall script, that could have been one of the great surprise endings of all time!
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Bottom line, I don't share the general low opinion implied by a 3.6 score at IMDb. Scores that low should be saved for completely formulaic and/or incompetent crap. This film is neither. It has some good ideas, and even has some good execution from time to time. I believe that if the writer/director had brought in a collaborator to smooth out the rough edges, The Lost Angel could have been a good film within the dark legacy of SE7EN, rather than a forgotten straight-to-vid which looks like an underlit SE7EN wannabee.
One of the coolest things about the film is that Alison Eastwood is essentially impersonating her father. Read the plot summary, and you'll see that her character is basically Dirty Harry with a vagina. If it had been my script, I would have called her Harriet Callahan - Dirty Harriet.
The Hyphen World (straight-to-vid and direct-to-cable) has its own familiar cast of characters. For example, I'm sure many of you know Eric Roberts, a former mainstreamer now exiled to the hyphenated demimonde. The prolific Mr. Roberts is not in this film, but some other familiar faces from Hyphen World appear here.
John Rhys-Davies is a good actor, in fact a very good actor in his native realm - a respected Shakespearian on stage who has also appeared in some of the most popular and prestigious film and TV productions of his time. His name may not sound familiar to you, but I absolutely guarantee that you know his face. He played Gimli in the Lord of the Rings films (although he is actually 6'1" with a very commanding presence), was Macro in the PBS series "I, Claudius," and was also in the first two Indiana Jones adventures. For some reason, probably financial, he always seems to be using his powerful and resonant speaking voice in crappy movies as a king or a high priest or some other authority figure. I don't know if any actor on the planet, not even Jurgen Prochnow, can claim to have reached both the heights and the depths to which Rhys-Davies has traveled.
Check this shit out:
The Rhys-Davies achievement of nine projects rated below four is nothing to sneeze at. Eric Roberts only has eight. Even Prochnow himself has only nine. Even the legendary grade-B demigod Corbin Bernsen is not so far ahead with twelve. But the achievements of Mr. Rhys-Davies in this domain are totally eclipsed by those of one of his co-stars in The Lost Angel. I am referring to Mr. Ponyboy Soul Man himself, C. Thomas Howell.
Here is the bottom end of Howell's filmography:
That list kinda says it all! He's worked on 16 projects worse than The Lost Angel, four of them in 2005 alone! All sixteen of them are rated below four. I don't mean to disparage Mr. Howell with this list. In fact, quite to the contrary. I thought he did a good job in this film in a crazy over-the-top role, and I'm sure he gets so much work (32 credits since 2000) because he can always be counted on to bring professionalism and reliability to his efforts. While he is not Johnny Depp, he is a substitute within most people's budgets.
The Lost Angel also includes a third regular denizen of Hyphen World, Judd Nelson. Judd is a smart fellow with an excellent education who seemed to be quite the up-and-coming star in 1984-85, with a resume from that era which included Making the Grade, Fandango, St Elmo's Fire and The Breakfast Club. Those were his first four films, and they seemed to promise a great career, one which never materialized. Frankly, I don't really know how he ended up going from the Brat Pack in the mid 80s to his current career in Hyphen World. I kinda lost track of him in the intervening period, and he just seemed to disappear from my radar.
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