Known primarily as the stunt double for Lucy Lawless’ Xena, Zoe Bell was surprisingly charming as an actor in Tarantino’s Death Proof. She also played a believable supporting role as Regina in season four of Lost.
Chronicled in the documentary Double Dare, Bell’s remarkable stunt work and charismatic persona make her the obvious choice to lead an action film. The web series, Angel of Death, gives her the opportunity to carry a fast-paced production.
As a tougher version of Uma Thurman’s high-flying role in Kill Bill, Bell’s Eve is a brutal assassin with few equals in hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately, the latest job ends with a knife stabbed into the top of her head, which is never a good predicament.
After barely surviving, Eve is haunted by visions of a young girl accidentally killed during the fight. Driven by these harsh reminders, she works to bring down her past employers by any means necessary.
Originally airing this spring as ten short episodes on Crackle.com, this story faces serious narrative hurdles when combined into a feature. Thankfully, the act breaks aren’t too obvious, and the dark style remains consistent.
However, the plot suffers from incoherence and extended fights with unknown attackers. The flaws relate more to sloppy storytelling than any drawbacks caused by the web format. The villains are mostly written as faceless thugs with little personality or interest. The few enemies that receive more screen time are so over the top that they quickly become caricatures.
The worst is Vail Bloom, who’s trying way too hard to convey a ‘30s gangster style as Regina Downs. Bloom has appeared in more than 180 episodes of The Young and the Restless, which might explain her over-the-top performance.
Another major attraction to Angel of Death is Writer Ed Brubaker, well-known for his work in comics, particularly in the crime genre. It’s likely this feature is better suited for the page instead of the screen. I can picture a stunning full page shot of Eve with a bloody knife stuck in her head.
Even the long fights might work better spread across several pages of a graphic novel. Presented in live action, they display impressive stunts, yes, but they lose steam with each successive blow.
This film includes cameos from several familiar faces, most notably Xena‘s Lucy Lawless as Eve’s neighbor, Vera. Her character is the standard film-noir role of the nosy woman next door, and she has a lot of fun.
Doug Jones also appears as a drug-addicted doctor who operates on Eve. He’s often used behind make-up or CGI in films like Hellboy and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer but is himself this time.
Ted Raimi also has a very brief role as a doomed murder victim. His ridiculous form of death is sure to inspire some chuckles from genre fans. These familiar faces add some credibility and enjoyment, but their short appearances can only do so much for the overall picture.
The film version of Angel of Death was picked up by Spike and aired in July. This network’s audience is perfect for this standard genre picture. It falls within the typical revenge movie formula, where the lead takes down the baddies one by one, leading to a final showdown.
The highlight is Bell’s stunt work, which showcases her abilities to handle a wide array of fighting types. It’s too bad they’re surrounded by a dull plot. One example is a nasty hand-to-hand combat sequence against a random thug in a bathroom. The brutal fight lasts way too long and grows tedious well before the inevitable conclusion.
This DVD provides a solid batch of extras that offer interesting background details. The commentary includes Bell, Brubaker, Director Paul Etheredge, and Producer John Norris. The group has good chemistry and enjoys discussing the scenes and the tricky production.
There’s also a 30-minute documentary that contains even more background material. Interviews with the cast and crew describe the film’s origins and their experience making it.
Another memorable feature covers the stunts with Bell and other crew members. Fight Choreographer Ron Yuan (Blade, Rush Hour 2) has an extensive resume and did multiple jobs on set. He also was the stunt coordinator and action director, which made him possibly the busiest guy there.
Predictably, everyone raves about the bathroom fight, one of the story’s low points. Other extras cover Brubaker’s writing, Bell’s casting and her intense screen test.
Considering its low-budget origins, Angel of Death receives a bit more levity than the latest big-budget blockbuster. However, even a modest web series needs a competent story to transcend the genre formula. Bell’s energetic persona helps, but the fight sequences aren’t enough to liven up this predictable tale.
Following other web gems like Dr. Horrible andThe Guild, this feature’s success again reveals the format’s commercial possibilities. Etherege and Brubaker’s hearts are in the right place. I just wish they’d taken more risks and crafted a less conventional product.