3/1/12

You Don't Know Shat?!? :Broken Angel (1988)

Today March officially begins and with it brings a longstanding tradition here at The Lair, the celebrations of the works of William Shatner that I like to call " You Don't Know Shat!?!". This is a feature I've run for the last two years, and I've been eagerly awaiting March for it to swing around again. Shatner, while often belittled and denigrated, is really an acting treasure with roles that spans over 50 years and include iconic performances, side trips into other cultures and languages, documentaries, dramas, and comedies. Even saying all that barely begins to recognize the vastness of the body of work that Bill Shatner has amassed by 2012, the year of his 81st birthday. Today I' m going to start with one of his lesser known features. During the 70s and 80s, while Bill was running around as Kirk on the big screen and T.J. Hooker on the small one, he also made more than his fair share of made-for-TV films. In the past I've looked at Disaster on a Coastliner and Pray for the Wildcats, but today's film, Broken Angel, is a far cry from either of those action oriented movies. Instead it melded Shatner's over-the-top performance with a story that was equal parts Afterschool  Special and proto-Lifetime movie.


Shatner stars as family man Chuck Coburn, who actually doesn't have time for his family due to the duties involved in running his dry cleaning business. Meanwhile his wife Catherine (Susan Blakely) keeps herself out of the home selling real estate. This leads their kids, Jamie (Erika Eleniak) and Drew (Jason Horst) to fend for themselves. For Drew this means sitting in his room, playing punk music, and being terribly worried that the nuclear bomb is imminent at any moment. Jamie take s a more proactive route, getting herself mixed up with a gang of privileged white kids who call themselves L.F.N. (Live For Now, supposedly a gang into drugs, guns, and satanism.) At the prom, rival gang The Red Dragons take a few shots at Jamie her gang, killing off her closest friend. When the smoke cleared, Jamie was no where to be found. With no clues and little help from the police, Clark takes matters into his own hands and with the help of L.A gang counselor Shakti (Roxann Dawson) he begins to uncover the second life he never knew his straight A getting daughter hid from him.

The best way to describe this movie in cinematic shorthand would be to say that is is Hardcore gone softcore. In Paul Schader's masterpiece, George C. Scott hits up the city's underbelly as he searches for his daughter in the world of porn. Along the way, he participates in a few shady things to get him closer to his goal. In Broken Angel, Shatner, wrapped in a series of oatmeal colored sweaters, remains concerned, hits the streets in a television approved kind of way, and generally listens to educators and street violence specialists pontificate on the woeful sate of kids today, in order to get closer to finding his daughter. I kept waiting for Chuck to show some real balls and whip out a gun and go Death Wish on things until he found his kid. Sadly that never happens and, if anything, Shatner's character seems even more like a weenie by the film's spectacularly anticlimactic ending. Though I do have to say that seeing William get cruised by a gay teen prostitute was pretty great, and possibly my favorite moment in the entire film.

Playing a Dad who has lost his beloved daughter definitely gave The Shat plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery. In nearly every scene Shatner appears in, he goes for the full out, no stops, no holds barred version of whatever emotion he's trying to get across. There are a couple of occasions where Shatner throws himself against a window or wall due to the overwhelming emotion that he's feeling. These scenes, designed to drive home his character's grief, only stoke the extremely silly fire of Shatner's extreme touches. Movie actress Susan Blakely puts in a more reserved performance, but the mother character is really not the film's focus, though there is an infidelity subplot thrown in haphazardly. Broken Angel marked the first major appearance of future Baywatch star Erika Eleniak, and while she only really appears briefly, the movie's events revolve around her and her extremely dark, extremely thick eyebrow. Roxann Dawson, who plays the gang counselor, deserves a special mention, not because of her performance, but because she provides the second of three Star Trek connections in Broken Angel. Dawson would go on to play Klingon engineer B'lana Torres on Star Trek:Voyager while the third connection comes by way of veteran actor Brock Peters as the unhelpful cop assigned Jamie's case. He would appear as a Starfleet Admiral in Star Trek 4 and 6 as well as appear as Commander Ben Sisko's New Orleans chef father on Deep Space Nine.

Director Richard T. Heffron started off his career in episodic television during the early 70s before branching out into feature films such as the wobbling sequel Futureworld. Along the same time, he began directing a large amount of TV films which lead to jobs on North and South and V: The Final Battle. Broken Angel feels like there is a journeyman director behind the camera, and while the film is chock full of styles of the 80s (Fans of punks in film will not want to miss Shatner's search through a L.A dive filled to the top the rafters with mohawks.), it has a visual style and pace that I would associate more with 70s television. The whole concept feels dated. If there had been a tad more salaciousness to Jamie's disappearance or more wildly inaccurate information, then this could have fit nicely into the world of the exploitation films of the 40's and 50's which preyed on fears of drug use, sexual promiscuity, and the loosening of the moral fiber of America. There is an underlying current to Broken Angel that reads like, "What's the matter with these kids today with their hair and their clothes and their rock and roll music?"

In a way, it lends a lot of charm to this late Reagan era offering. Somewhere in between the peon to the perils of latchkey keys, there's a degree of campiness that lies squarely the feet of one William Shatner. If you're a child of the 80s and you enjoy seeing the Once and Future Kirk take on other roles, then Broken Angel is not a bad way to spend ninety minutes. Go in with the mind that you're seeing the descendent of classic exploitation films, and you're bound to have a good time. Shatner was no stranger to this kind of film though, and next week I'm going to look into one of his earliest roles, as a teacher grappling with sex education in 1961's The Explosive Generation.  So join me back here next Thursday and every Thursday this month for more Shatner as I look at more films from an incredible career. Don't forget, you can go back and check in on entries from the past anytime. So check them out and get to really know your Shat. 

Bugg Rating

There's no trailer for this Made for TV flick, but here's a clip in German. Netflix subscribers can check it out streaming now!

1 comment:

  1. Solid review. I just viewed this recently for a William Shatner blogathon of my own that I was planning--didn't realize it was a tradition here at the Lair. My bad! So it looks like I'll be putting it on the backburner.

    Anyway, my favorite scene was also Shatner getting cruised by the male prostitute--even better considering this was played by the same guy who played Joey from Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4!

    --J/Metro

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