Director: Charles Philip Moore
Writers: Charles Philip Moore, Paul Maslak
Cast: Maria Ford, Charlie Spradling, Jimmy Broome, Antonio Bacci, Jessica Mark, Timothy D. Baker, Chanda, James Paolelli, Bob McFarland
Every once in a while, after I’ve just poured my morning cup of coffee, I like to stare out my window and listen for the sound of a cinephile blowing his or her brains out after reading about the latest studio plans to remake a beloved film. While it seems like the remake epidemic is yet another modern outgrowth of corporate greed, it’s been going on for decades. The practice may piss off the hardest of hardcore fans, but it’s an easy way for filmmakers and studios to repurpose financially lucrative intellectual property or improve upon forgotten originals. So it should be no great surprise that writer and director Charles Philip Moore jumped at the chance to remake his 1992 breakout film Blackbelt... in 1994.
As in the Don Wilson vehicle, the plot revolves around a pop singer attracting unwanted attention from a serial killer and seeking out protection. This is no ordinary pop singer, though. Moore attempts to atone for the pop music sins of Blackbelt, not by hiring professionals to improve upon the terrible songs, but by having the actress playing pop-star Delilah (Mark) take off her top while performing the terrible songs. This sounds shameless and exploitative -- and it is -- but it makes for some visually interesting set pieces. The best, which the killer admires from a hooting nightclub crowd, finds a curvy blond onstage, strapped to what looks like an electric chair. Delilah, in nothing more than red lingerie, “croons” a few bars of her new single and when the music reaches a crescendo, the chair explodes in a display of smoke and pyrotechnics as the crowd cheers. Then the tops come off. The lip-syncing is bad, but the fake titties are even worse.
Unbeknownst to her adoring public, Delilah is carrying on a same-sex relationship with her blond companion, Reena Jacobs (Chanda), while continuing to sleep with her manager, Danny (Paolelli). On top of that, her mobster record label owner (McFarland) just might kill her for an insurance policy if she fails to resign with him. If those elements weren’t dangerous enough, a crazed military veteran named John Sweet (Broome) is stalking Delilah and leaving a trail of severed fingers and dead hookers in his wake. Who in the world has the balls to take on someone so sadistic?
Rather fortunately, Delilah finds those balls hanging from Brit Alwood (Spradling), a bad-ass private investigator whose fondness for dark aviators is second only to her love for giving piggish men free vasectomies with kicks to the crotch. Her toughness runs in the family too; Brit’s younger sister, Jo (Ford) is a tough-as-manicured-nails undercover cop who finds it easiest to rough up the scum of society while dressed in tight jeans and navel-exposing tube tops. While Brit initially takes Delilah’s case, it’s Jo who ends up performing the grunt work of protecting her. The saucy Internet rumor posits that the role of Spradling’s character was diminished due to her refusal to partake in a specific scene we’ll discuss in a couple of ‘graphs.
Along for the ride in the investigation of John Sweet is a cop named Aaron, played by first-time-and-never-again actor Antonio Bacci. He doesn’t bring all that much to the party other than imparting clunky exposition and looking average during fight scenes, but he does sport a great fucking moustache. He also has a love scene with Maria Ford before collecting his paycheck, so it would appear he left the industry on a high-note... assuming you consider awkward martial-arts movie love scenes to be a high note. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I do).
While Seinfeld has taught us many a lesson, few are as valuable as the notion of “bad naked” (episode: “The Apology”). I’m sure everyone had the best intentions in putting Ford in nothing but a thong for her late-night fight with a half-dozen thugs in Delilah’s mansion. I mean, topless kickboxing sounds good in theory ... doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the net effect is about as erotic as shredding tax documents. It’s not that I don’t find Ford to be attractive but it’s hard to ignore the hurricane of Aquanet, grunting, high-kicks, and... flopping. So while it’s certainly possible the filmmakers were trying to de-sexualize the female form with this scene, they achieved one of the most gloriously campy scenes ever captured in the martial-arts DTV genre.
Pointing out flaws in a movie like this is a bit counterproductive, but it also highlights why the film is so enjoyable. A music video shoot for Delilah consists of nothing more than her and Reena taking their tops off and lip-syncing in a room full of mannequins. Yes, the mannequins are both blindfolded and naked. At one point, Bacci actually calls Ford by "Maria" instead of her character's name and I'm not sure why Moore felt this didn't require a second take to nail down. I don't recall any visible boom mics, falling dummies, or landing mats during stunt falls, but this being a Roger Corman film, it does have that classic air of low-budgeted, balls-to-the-wall, "let's shoot this fucker!" methodology. More than the technical misfires, I found the weakest element was the casting of Jimmy Broome and the reworking of the John Sweet character. The guy looks like a fucking creep and his violent behavior is weird enough to cement the character as a psycho, but you take a lot off the table in downgrading from a physically imposing martial-artist like Matthias Hues. He's no Brando and his fighting skills don't really dazzle, but he's proficient at playing the hulking monster and would have been a more formidable opponent for Ford.
The ho-hum fight choreography of Paul Maslak has been replaced with the equally vanilla stylings of stunt coordinator Ronald Asinas. However, there are a few elements which elevate the action in Angel of Destruction above that of its source material. Its very liberal approach to the destruction of props and sets during the hand-to-hand fight sequences -- a staple of Filipino action films -- always wins me over, and the stunt crew makes Ford look great. The climax also trades the “one vs. many” fight of Blackbelt for a fun build-up marked by ‘splosions and healthy amounts of gunfire.
Going from the hard-kicking Wilson to Ford might seem to be a downgrade, yet there’s something inherently enjoyable about watching a petite blond heroine getting into bar fights with bigger opponents and gunning down would-be assassins without batting an eyelash. On top of that, Ford is the better actor and conjures up the necessary contempt for her adversaries that Wilson lacks in his facial expressions and line delivery. Jo's violent interrogation of one of Sweet's military buddies on a public street in the middle of the day is a hilarious scene and quite possibly Ford's best in the film. Well, aside from the nude fight where she smashes some dude's head through a fish tank.
It's rare that a cinematic remake improves upon the original, but Moore nails the landing on this one. It makes me wish Maria Ford had done more Filipino action movies and less erotic thrillers, but she really shines in this one. If Blackbelt can be described as a studious, church-going star athlete, Angel of Destruction is the younger sister who sleeps around, drinks whiskey before fighting strangers, and would be completely topless in her Spring Break photos were it not for the vomit all over her chest. In other words, she’s a bit trashy, but also a lot more fun.
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