The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
thevideovacuum

90’S SHOT-ON-VIDEO ACTION QUADRUPLE FEATURE

STREET ANGELS (1993) *** ½

“Street Angels? Sounds like a bad no-budget B movie!”—Actual Line of Dialogue.

Well, I’m happy to report that nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, Street Angels is a rather terrific no-budget, shot-on-video wonder. It was written and directed by George Saunders, who also stars. This man does it all and he does it surprisingly well. If you’ve sat through as many bad shot-on-video movies as I have, you learn to embrace a truly great one when it comes along. If Saunders is a no-budget Orson Welles, then Street Angels is his shot-on-video Citizen Kane.

Saunders stars as an undercover cop with a penchant for saying “motherfucker” a lot. When a bisexual psychopath named “The Phantom” (who looks like the love child of Brian Thompson and Richard Tyson) kills his partner, Saunders goes out for revenge. Believing that the justice system is broken, he decides to create a team of three tough and deadly women who can work outside the system and bring law and order to the streets.

The reason why I watch as many bad movies as I do is because you never know when you’re going to discover a heretofore unheralded work of genius. For every hundred-some god-awful movies I watch, there’s one that comes along and actually surprises me and makes me glad I do what I do. Street Angels is such a movie.

Street Angels is actually a bit of a bait-and-switch, but kind of in a good way. The way the plot is set up, you think it’s going to be sort of a Jersey Girl version of Charlie’s Angels or something. And yes, while the girls do finally team-up to save Saunders in the end, for the most part, the film is a terrific showcase for Saunders’ capabilities; both in front of and behind the camera.

Sure, the lighting and cinematography looks like it came straight out of a Wendy’s training video, but the scrappiness of the whole production is kinda what gives the movie its charm. And despite the appalling budget, Saunders is still able to make the action sequences work, thanks to some skillful ingenuity and genuine moments of humor. With most of these kinds of things, more often than not; you’re laughing at the film. Not so with Street Angels. It earns each and every single laugh and trust me; I laughed more WITH this movie than I have at comedies with significantly astronomically higher budgets. Sure, the film isn’t always successful and there are some lulls in between the good stuff, but Street Angels is definitely in the top 10% of no-budget, shot-on-tape action movies.

Saunders’ performance is what makes the movie. Imagine Julian McMahon meets Norm MacDonald and that should give you just a taste of what to expect. I especially liked the fact that he was “undercover”, yet he wore a T-shirt that said “FIGHT CRIME!” And some of his line readings will have you rolling in the aisles. He’s at his best when The Phantom ties him up and tortures him. The way Saunders mercilessly mocks his enemy in the face of death is hilarious. It’s here where he delivers the best line of the movie: “Punched, pissed on, and sweet-talked by a psycho bitch from Hell… GOD I HATE MONDAYS!”

Saunders later went on to write Bloodsport: The Next Kumite and The Hard Corps.

(Note: I initially was going to give Street Angels ***, but after watching the next three movies, I decided to bump that rating up. Why? Well, after seeing just how bad these next three no-budget shot-on-video “movies” were, I began to appreciate Street Angels even more.)

REVENGE QUEST (1995) ½ *

The year is 2031. A psycho escapes from a Martian prison and comes to Earth to kill the woman whose testimony put him away. It’s up to a dull ass bounty hunter to protect her.

Look, I know these guys were ambitious to try to make a futuristic sci-fi action movie on a non-existent budget, but Revenge Quest is fucking pathetic on nearly every level imaginable. I guess I could’ve been lenient on them if they made their own movie, but half of the movie is just no-budget scene for scene lifts of The Terminator and Blade Runner. Remember when Jack Black and Mos Def “Sweded” all those movies in Be Kind Rewind? Well, imagine a couple of no-talent hacks pulling the same shit for 80 minutes.

The only way to survive watching this movie without A) Falling asleep or B) Losing your sanity is to make fun of it Mystery Science Theater style. Most of the derision will come from the inept ways the “filmmakers” tried to make the film look futuristic… and failed miserably. You’ve got to love the fact that it’s 2031, but they still have Amtrack trains from the 90’s and bulky cellular phones. Plus, all the fashions look pretty 90’s to me, with the only exceptions being some of the accessories. (Nothing says “The Future” like cartoonishly long cigarette holders.)

Another hilarious way they tried to make things look “futuristic”: Putting book lamps containing light bulbs with way too much wattage all over the damned place. And speaking of lights, in one scene there’s a bright orange light emanating out of the bottom of our hero’s couch. Why? I guess the filmmakers though it looked futuristic. Well, I’m here to tell ya, it doesn’t look futuristic, it just looks stupid.

I guess all of this may have been tolerable if there was any action. What action we do get is extremely pathetic though. On top of that, nearly every dialogue scene is dull and boring and feature pitiful performances. This is the kind of movie that if I wasn’t writing a blog I would’ve turned off ten minutes in and done something more productive (like banging my head against the wall for 80 minutes). I mean you know it’s bad when in one scene they forget to turn the time code off!

Trying to make a futuristic sci-fi action flick with absolutely no money was probably the filmmakers’ first mistake. I’m sure their ideas could’ve work if some kind of budget had been secured to fully flesh them out. As it is, Revenge Quest makes Albert Pyun look like Stanley Kubrick by comparison.

If Street Angels is a sterling example of how no-budget, shot-on-video filmmaking can work, Revenge Quest is an all-too familiar reminder of how everything can go wrong.

FLIGHT TO DANGER (1995) *

A team of karate-kicking girls go to Paris to compete in a tournament. On their arrival home, they are hounded by a scuzzy money launderer who thinks they’ve stolen his goods. Luckily, the gals are more than capable of defending themselves.

Flight to Danger is slightly better than Revenge Quest. That’s not saying much though, especially considering that it winds up failing in ways Revenge Quest only dreamt of. Not only does this one have all the production values of a local pawn shop commercial, it features some extremely annoying slow motion that is guaranteed to make your eyes hurt.

And while Revenge Quest at least had enough plot to fill an entire movie, Flight to Danger relies heavily on padding to get its running time up to 78 minutes. Right off the bat, we get about ten minutes of the girls taking a karate class and saying “Hi-Ya!” and/or sparring against one another. This is followed by a long inexplicable and totally unnecessary scene where two girls take part in a domestic violence workshop. Then we get a long inexplicable dance party in an art gallery. Right on the heels of that, there is a long inexplicable scene of girls borrowing clothes and playing dress up. Then after about 35 minutes, the plot finally kicks itself in gear.

Sadly, the padding is actually a lot more memorable and goofy than the plot itself.

Even worse is the fact that the title is a total cheat as there is no “Flight” to Danger. All the danger happens AFTER they return home! And even then, the girls’ “flight” is represented by a brief shot of them walking out of an airport. Pathetic. The most irritating thing about the whole flick though is that our main heroine boasts that she met Don “The Dragon” Wilson while in Paris, but the movie is far too lame to actually show it.

When you hear the term “bad shot-on-video action movie” this is exactly the kind of pain that usually comes to mind. The action is bad, the cinematography is a joke, and the acting is beyond amateurish. Plus, the movie has what has to be the most unsexiest sex scene ever filmed. (This guy with nasty Rico Suave hair runs it up and down a chick’s back; then afterwards, he croons to her with a guitar.)

Thank God for the padding (I never thought I’d say that), or else Flight to Danger would’ve been totally without merit.

DEATH RUN TO ISTANBUL (1993) * ½

This Kung Fu chick’s ex-boyfriend is in deep to a gangster. When he loses a briefcase full of drugs, it gets him into more trouble. She tries to help him out, but the gangster is less than understanding, so she has to kickbox the bejesus out of his organization.

Oh, and no one goes to Istanbul in case you’re wondering.

If anything, Death Run to Istanbul is a good early 90’s time capsule. Everything from the fashions (lots of leather jackets, flannel shirts, and acid washed jeans) to the movie posters (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is featured prominently) made me wistful for the bygone days of grunge. If however you are unmoved by all the 90’s nostalgia, then Death Run to Istanbul will probably be a chore for you to get through.

The action happens in brief, sporadic bursts. It’s choreographed decently enough I guess (which is to say better than Revenge Quest or Flight to Danger), so that at least makes the movie semi-tolerable. Unfortunately, every single one of the dialogue scenes is interminable and the ending is a complete washout. I did like the villain’s muscle-bound Asian female sidekick though.

Bottom Line: Death Run to Istanbul is more like a Slow Jog to Hell.

The bad guy gets the best line of the movie when he says, “She’s just a kickboxing whore!”

Tags: action, d, f, kung fu, r, s, sci-fi
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