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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Angel Town' Misses the Mark

February 23, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The awkward, tediously violent "Angel Town" (citywide) introduces former world kick-boxing champion Olivier Gruner as a new French graduate student at a fictional local university--read USC--whose martial arts skills come in handy when he takes on a Chicano gang terrorizing his landlady (Theresa Saldana), who lives in a large, run-down, turn-of-the-century house.

It seems that some five years earlier Saldana's husband took a stand against gang violence in the neighborhood and paid for it with his life. Now the gang maintains a near nonstop harassment of Saldana's teen-age son (Frank Aragon) to try to force him to accept membership in the very outfit that murdered his father. It would seem that Gruner has arrived in the nick of time, yet before he's able to do his stuff effectively the gang manages to terrorize Saldana's mother-in-law into a fatal heart attack and rape Saldana besides.

Writer S. Warren and director Eric Karson make no attempt to explore the gang phenomenon or psychology; the gang members are simply hateful figures of evil, the stereotypical ethnic bad guys whom the hero predictably defeats in the final reel. The wiry Gruner has presence, and when it comes to kick-boxers, is a better actor than the more monumental-looking Dolph Lundgren.

The acting honors, however, go to Saldana, who suggests the cruel irony of the Chicano family who has worked hard to own its own home only to find the neighborhood disintegrating around it. "Angel Town" (rated R for violence) works up some exploitation-picture energy at the beginning, but it dissipates into protracted mayhem.

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