The Film: Broken Angel (1988)
The Principals: William Shatner, Susan Blakely, Erika Elaniak, Brock Peters, Roxann Dawson, Jason Horst. Directed by Richard T. Heffron.
The Premise: Suburban Reaganite Chuck Coburn (Shatner) is not exactly living the American Dream. His workaholic lifestyle has left his marriage to his wife (Blakely) on the rocks and he has zero understanding of his kids. Daughter Jaime (Elaniak) is a straight-A student with a not-so-straight-edge social life, and son Drew (Horst) is a budding conspiracy theorist who loves punk rock and is fascinated by the possibility of a nuclear winter.
Against his pious grandstanding, Jaime glams up for the prom with her slutty best friend and their deadbeat dates. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when a drive-by shooting leaves a few dead, including the friend, and Jaime goes missing. Even more unfortunately, it’s 1988 and the LAPD doesn’t give much of a shit about one missing kid when there’s thousands, so Chuck has to hit the mean streets and find her himself, wrangling in an ex-gang member (Dawson) and a Murtaugh-like flustered detective (Peters) for help. Along the way, he discovers crack, Satanist Triads, and Al Leong. Will he find his daughter?
Is It Good? I’m not well-versed in the realm of made-for-TV movies, especially of this sort of movie-of-the-week ilk. However, when I was made aware by infrequent poster and good friend Bryan Waters of the existence of this over on Netflix, I had to see this for myself. Even with the massive commercial success of the Star Trek films in the 1980’s, William Shatner always seemed to gravitate back towards camp and self-awareness with Airplane II, T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911 (a masochistic childhood staple), and curiosities like this. Hot off Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the most financially successful entry of the original series films, this would be his follow-up, a personification of a kitchen sink of moral panics of the era so ludicrous you’d swear Cynthia A. Cherbak, the writer of this telefilm, is a pseudonym of Geraldo Rivera.
We’re already off to an ironically auspicious start as soon as the Shat is introduced. I would not buy him for a second with a name like Chuck, and whatever job he has—I think he owns a sporting goods store?—his fashion is a legion of tacky Starter jackets and sub-Cosby sweaters. Throw in a wife he barely sees, a son who’s all about Suicidal Tendencies and stealing his mom’s jewelry to rock out at concerts, and a daughter bound for not college but busting out of cakes topless on a naval carrier that Tommy Lee Jones is about to take control of, and Erika Elaniak ain’t the broken angel the title is talking about—he is. Honestly. Chuck Coburn’s agitation with anti-conformity has been accentuated by eight years of the Gipper that, when his daughter vanishes after that shooting, he’s mortified to learn that the police are either too overwhelmed or lazy to do their job.
Now, an interlude about the shooting that serves as the catalyst for the film. First of all, judging by how dark the sky is outside, this particular high school decided to hold this year’s prom at 11 PM sharp. That, or the film is set outside of Daylight Savings Time. Next up, anyone who’s seen Colors or played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas knows that drive-by shootings, for dramatic effect, work best with fully automatic weapons, preferably a submachine gun. The shooter here, however, opts for a .44 Magnum. I’m no purveyor of the Second Amendment, but you don’t have to be a ballistics expert or Jim Garrison to figure out the fact that a six-shooter fired from a moving vehicle is going to cause more panic than carnage.
When Chuck lowers into his anguished determination trying to find his daughter, the camp factor in Broken Angel starts bouncing off the charts as Shatner begins to act like a stereotype of himself. Dialogue is recited in the most dramatic delivery possible with all the delayed pauses that have defined myriad caricatures. All the overacting yields is a series of statistics that the school’s principal and various police officers use to masquerade their hopelessness, and the more kilos of shit they spew at Shatner, the more ornery he gets, and the farther from reality everything strays. The often-awkward placement of Shatner’s infamous flowing toupee is more grounded in reality than the collective head-scratchers on display here.
His only true ally is a reformed gang member (Dawson) looking to give back to the community by making sure the majority of urban youth stays cool in school and says no to drugs—the latter of which his daughter certainly didn’t. With crack comes an epidemic, and with a crack epidemic, at least in this case, come Asian street gangs who spray pentagrams under bridges and scrawl out their hit lists as graffiti—oh yeah, and they bankroll the crack, and Jaime delivers their crack. Am I supposed to believe that Mao Zedong and Satan instigated a major city’s population of drug abusers to become addicted to crack? Perhaps the truth is stranger than fiction, or the lottery of hot-button debate topics that I believe generated this movie actually did just that.
In fact, the film is so washed up (but hilariously so) in trying to preach to the choir that the climax involves Shatner trying to find his earring-wearing son at a sleazy punk-rock concert and trashy kegger and illogically allowing the resolution to happen due to a baseless deus ex machina. Before the thing is over, however, Shatner gets to fight an enemy greater than anything J.T. ever fought—Al Leong! Yes, the beloved stuntman and long-haired star of countless era classics tries to rub out the Shat, and you bet your ass they have a throw-down in gang territory! I think I’ve made a strong-enough case for you to check this out already, but Shatner vs. Leong? Fight of the goddamn century.
Mr. Spock would have never been able to comprehend anything of this nomenclature.
Is It Worth a Look? Enthusiasts of Shatner and TV movie camp should head on over to Netflix as soon as humanly possible to watch this. When you do, make sure you have a plentiful amount of wine coolers and wear your most distressed Suicidal Tendencies T-shirt.
Random Anecdotes: Special thanks to Jason Pollock for helping me realize that Rodney Eastman of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4 fame plays the street hustler who propositions Shatner in gang territory. Talk about a wet dream that kid had! Heh heh.
Further adventures in “future stars”—Donnie Jeffcoat, later the co-host of Nickelodeon’s popular 90’s game show Wild and Crazy Kids, plays Drew’s friend.
An alternate ending where the entire film is revealed to be a fever dream of Morton Downey Jr. was filmed, but rejected by network censors. Okay, I made that one up.
An excuse to post one of my favorite bits of hilarity: