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Hipster Holy Grail: Angel Blade (2002)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

When you look past the bad softcore scenes and recycled orgy footage, Angel Blade is only about an hour's worth of movie and still feels bloated.  On the plus side, I enjoyed - or at least appreciated - the last twenty minutes or so when David Heavener played against type, so there's at least one decent nugget here for Heavener super-fans.

My Rating: 1 / 5

The Plot Summary

This week I bring NoHeavenber to a close with Angel Blade, the movie that seems to be his most popular, according to IMDb's "known for" lineup.  I'm not sure how accurate that IMDb feature is, but if it does reflect the way Heavener is perceived by the world, well... wow, what irony.  I'll get into that later.

Angel Blade is an erotic thriller about the misadventures of Detective Bradley Cooper (no kidding, and yes, he's definitely played by David Heavener).  Cooper is a disgraced Las Vegas cop who used to be hot shit, but was put on involuntary leave by a politically-minded commissioner (Richard Moll) after a controversial bust.  He's plagued not only by his disagreements with Commissioner Moll, but also by terrible memories of his deceased wife, who was pregnant at the time she died.

Cooper is rustled out of his semi-retired funk by a former partner / good friend / fellow cop Paul Jackson (Dan Martin), who needs Cooper's help to look into a string of brutal murders.  Well, "string of murders" is a bit too dramatic - it's more like "two murders."  But they were identical: two pregnant prostitutes with sexy angel-printed underwear were each found ritualistically killed, and the police are baffled as to who could be behind it.

Cooper begins his investigation, which naturally leads to some strip clubs (and eventually a lingerie fashion show) where we get copious amounts of nudity.  Also, any time somebody talks about one of the murders or implies that a murder might happen or sometimes if the movie even just cuts from one scene to the next, we'll get recycled montage footage either of a masquerade orgy in some Vegas swinger club or of the nude victims being chained up and cut with a knife.

That's all a long-winded way of saying that there's a shitload of arbitrary nudity and sex shoved into this movie.  Every once in awhile it's borderline comical - like two cops will be having a conversation, and then the movie cuts to the orgy montage, and then it cuts back to the cops sitting in an interrogation room or something.  It's like interstitial footage from CSI: Caligula.

But mostly it gets boring fast.  Sure, an orgy is titillating the first time you show it to me, but the fifth time you whip that one out I'm just rolling my eyes and saying, "Seen it."

So, back to Cooper's investigation.  He figures out that the prostitutes each had the same social worker, Dr. Martin Gites (Marc Singer), who's currently on a book tour in Vegas.  Cooper goes to interview Gites, who seems to be trying as hard as humanly possible to make himself a suspect.  Singer's one direction for his performance must have been, "Sleaze it up, motherfucker."  Not only does he look greasy, he keeps leering his voice and actually squinting his eyes suspiciously each time he drops a line.

The overacting here is probably the highlight of the movie.  Naturally, this means Singer isn't in it for very long - he just forms one of two links in the chain that leads Cooper to Tyrone (Don Wallace), a violent pimp(?) / former lover of each of the deceased.  (The other and more important link in that chain is when Cooper goes to a lingerie shop that sells the angel underwear that the victims were wearing.  Almost the only reason this scene is important is because it's wear Cooper meets Samantha (Amanda Righetti), a model and prostitute who works at the shop along with Margot Kidder, of all people.  Samantha and Cooper almost immediately have sex after they first meet, and they'll continue to do so for the rest of the movie.)

Cooper quickly concludes that Tyrone is the murderer and goes to arrest him at a sex hotel. There's a fight scene, followed by Tyrone's arrest and then a drawn-out interrogation scene.  Then Gites shows up again to be sleazy and manipulate Commissioner Moll into releasing Tyrone from police custody for contrived reasons.  Then Samantha and Cooper have sex again.

Later, Samantha and Margot Kidder are closing up the lingerie shop, but the serial killer shows up and stabs Kidder to death.  The police suspect that Samantha may have done it because she was the last one at the scene.  Cooper thinks otherwise because he had sex with her and would like to continue having sex.  This is not seen as a conflict of interest or anything (I guess they're playing by Trump rules), so Cooper is allowed to stay on the case.

So, then Samantha and Cooper have sex again.  I think this is the sex scene where Samantha pulls a knife out and puts it between her and Cooper's chest like a kickstand and rocks it back and forth.  Somewhere in here there's a sequence where Cooper keeps having nightmares about Samantha being murdered, and then he stays in her apartment for the night to keep her safe.  It's hard to remember the exact sequence of events during this part of the movie, what with the random orgy montages and repeated Cooper/Samantha fucking.

Anyway, all I know for sure is that there's definitely a scene here where Samantha handcuffs Cooper to a bed, flips him over, sprays shaving cream all over his ass, and uses a knife to shave his butt cheeks.  All of which is redundant because Heavener is already a well-groomed man, thank you very much.

Jackson is also kind of doing an investigation on his own and we see him learn something deeply troubling.  But since Angel Blade is very clever, we don't know what he knows yet.

Cut back to Samantha.  She's hanging out in Cooper's remote house in the mountains where she can be safe and free from any potential murderers.  She and Cooper are getting ready to settle in for a romantic evening of red wine and kebabs.  But then she notices that Cooper has a pair of the angel underwear and she realizes that he was the murderer all along!  Oh, no!!!!

Thus ensues a vaguely cat-and-mouse like chase scene all over Cooper's house.  Samantha evades his capture while he starts freaking out and possibly hallucinating that there's a baby crying out to him.  The connection is never made in a totally believable way, but the implication is that Cooper keeps trying to replace his dead wife, then realizes that no woman will ever live up to her, so he snaps and murders them.  Or something.

Anyway, Samantha hides behind a weird wall panel / cupboard in the attic, despite being in plain sight when Cooper opens the panel and looks inside.  Then she jumps out a window and tries to run for safety.  As she's pursued by Cooper, she stumbles across Gites's dead body, which is hanging from the rafters in the garage, and she runs into the desert.  She trips on something and smashes her head into a rock.  Then Cooper puts his murder knife - his angel blade, if you will - into her hand and acts creepy about it.

A bit later, Jackson shows up at Cooper's house to arrest him for all the murders.  He implies that he suspected Cooper all along, but never acted on it because he didn't want to believe Cooper could be responsible.  Between the two of them, we find out that Cooper staged Gites's murder to look like a suicide and framed Samantha, so now Cooper is free to leave the scene and start a new life somewhere.  Jackson won't let him go, obviously, so he draws his gun.  Then we see Cooper reach for his own gun.

The movie cuts to an exterior shot of the house and we hear a single gunshot.  Smash cut to end credits.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Let's start with the positive: I liked that Heavener took a turn as a villain for once.

He still spends most of the movie doing his Clint Eastwood / radio pundit shtick, complete with random conservative diatribes, only now he's got a little more anger and a ton more sweat.  So, it's not like you're going to get much of a variety from him  here.  But in a way, that kinda makes the last act even better - you're spending the whole movie seeing Heavener as usual, and then suddenly he's a psychotic killer who acts exactly the way you expect him to based on his rants about justice.

But other than that and a few random bits that held my attention - like the surprise ass-shaving and Marc Singer's hamfest - I didn't like this movie at all.

I bitched quite a bit about the low technical quality of last week's film, Outlaw Prophet, but that movie is at least representative of David Heavener.  He's a borderline nutball whose films are steeped in right-wing paranoia, gun love, misinterpretations of patriotism, and religious enthusiasm that ranges from subtle to punch-you-in-the-goddamn-face.  So, basically, he's nothing like me, but that's part of why I find his films so charming.  He's an action movie fan with an infectious DIY attitude that makes the kind of movies I would probably be capable of making, only with the polar opposite lens.

But Angel Blade isn't like that at all.  I'm actually pretty shocked to find that Heavener wrote and directed it.

The main problem is that this is a softcore thriller.  I haven't reviewed one of these in a long, long time, and there's a good reason for that.  Softcore features, whether played for thrills or for laughs, aren't actually movies.  They're vehicles to deliver sex.  I don't disapprove, but let's face it - I have the Internet.  Not only can I pull up the dirtiest, filthiest, most explicit stuff I could ever dream of in a matter of minutes, but I often do.

There's simply no need for softcore nowadays.  It's an obsolete genre.  It's not funny, it's not sexy, it's not interesting.  The sex ends up being a boring interlude for what is usually already a boring movie.

And what makes it all the worse is that this isn't Heavener's style.  Sure, some of his movies have gratuitous sex or nudity (Prime Target and Dragon Fury sure did, and I had a great time with those).  But the sex in those movies is the icing on the cake, not the main course.  And those movies have enough sense to know what they are, so everything's tinged with camp.  Not this.  Angel Blade is so goddamn serious.  It gets tedious fast.

I would not advise anyone to see this except for Heavener completists.  What a shame to end the month here.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

This is possibly David Heavener's best known movie at about 170 ratings on IMDb, so this week he only gets 40 points for obscurity.  I'm also docking the usual Heavener bonus a bit because I don't think he did the music, so that's only 25 points.  I'll give it a tiny bump for Marc Singer.

But then I think I'm going to have to dock 10 points for all the sex.  It's not a prudish thing, mind you.  It's just that it doesn't work for a hipster's goals.  Pretend that you're trying to smugly impress somebody with your stupid movie knowledge and you say, "Oh, yeah?  Well, I watched Angel Blade!  Top that!"  And then they go, "Alright, fine, I'm gonna call your bluff and check it out."  Then they find out it's sub-Cinemax softcore.  You've tried to one-up somebody with something that's not an actual movie.  So what's your move now, idiot?

When all is said and done, Angel Blade still sneaks away with a not-too-shabby total of 60 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

Angel Blade is out of print, but was released on DVD, so you can buy a copy if you've got money to burn.  Or you can do like me and rent it from Netflix.