Bullet Points: Angel Town
The 25 year long acting career of Olivier Gruner is a mystery to many.
Gruner, while in fantastic shape, never had an Arnold like physique that demanded the audience’s attention. But like Arnold, Olivier Gruner had the uphill battle of English being a second language often making his dialogue tough to follow.
Some action stars, like Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal, are able to continue to get roles based on some of their early box office success. Olivier Gruner, to my knowledge, was never even in a movie that was shown theatrically in the United States let alone a big box office hit.
Sometimes to unravel a mystery you have to go all the way back to the beginning…
Gruner’s first film, Angel Town, is the topic of discussion in this edition of Bullet Points.
- A Star is Born?: The story goes that Gruner did some serious self-promotion at the Cannes Film Festival one year. Gruner plastered posters of himself around Cannes, this caught the attention of a producer, who was no doubt looking for the next Jean-Claude Van Damme, and days later Gruner was flying to Los Angeles to do some screen tests. He passed those tests (my sources tell me he got a 74%) and his next stop was Angel Town.
- The Premise: Gruner plays Jacques, a French graduate student who is recruited by a university in California for his athletic skills. Since Jacques gets to California two days later than he was expected (more on that in the next Bullet Point) his housing choices are extremely limited. He ends up renting a room from Maria, a single mother in a rough part of town. Maria’s son, Martin, is getting harassed by the local gang. In fact, if this movie is to be believed, the entire future of the gang must rely on recruiting Martin into the gang. Jacques becomes a neighborhood hero, helping Maria and Martin with their gang problem.
- First Impressions: Remember this is Olivier Gruner’s first film ever. The first time we see Jacques, he’s driving his car listening to some Terry Plumeri jazz as he pulls into a cemetery. There is then a sentimental moment as Jacques says goodbye to his deceased family before he leaves his homeland and heads to America. But then Jacques’ girlfriend shows up wearing nothing but a fur coat and it is then implied the two fornicate right there on top of the graves. I’m not sure if they were there for two days or if they eventually found a more private location for Jacques’ “going away party”. But this is the first impression that Olivier Gruner left on movie watchers and why his character in Angel Town was late for school.
- There Goes The Neighborhood: It is quickly established that the predominately Latino neighborhood is not a fan of a Frenchman living among them. It is also quickly established that fights can break out at any time. For example, we see Jacques spring into action after he escorts Sara, one of his fellow students back to her dorm. On their way some of the gang members crash a college party that is taking place outside and start beating the crap out of some college dudes until Jacques saves the day. We also get to see Jacques thwart a home invasion at one point… he’s better than ADT! Sorry Ving Rhames.
After watching Angel Town, I think I may have figured out the whole mystery of Olivier Gruner.
Angel Town was in no way a breakout performance for Gruner like Bloodsport was for Jean-Claude Van Damme. But it was a prime example of the types of movies that Gruner would go on to make for years to come… your average direct to video action film.
Gruner, a licensed helicopter pilot, flies just under the radar in the world of action entertainment. I know some die hard action movie fans who can recite entire scripts of Stallone, Van Damme or Chuck Norris movies that have NEVER even heard of Gruner. How is that possible when the man has been making movies in a genre they are obviously fans of for more than two decades? It is because Gruner is like that dependable employee who comes in every day, meets his quotas, isn’t bucking for a promotion, isn’t asking for a raise… he does his job, you pay him, end of story. He goes for the low hanging fruit and never overextends himself.
And for those of us who have seen some of Gruner’s less than watchable movies, we still have a level of respect for Gruner due to his legit background in the military and the kickboxing world.
Angel Town was actually one of the more enjoyable Olivier Gruner movies I have watched in my lifetime. If you decide to check out Gruner’s movie debut, here are a few more things to look for…
- Another Mystery: According to IMDB, Bulletproof Action favorite Mark Dacascos has a small role in this movie. I admit, I did not notice him and wondered if this was another rare IMDB error. I did watch the end credits however and it does appear that Mark was in the film, although they spelled his last name Dacuscos. Or was it actually a guy named Mark Dacuscos and not Mark Dacascos?!?
- Familiar Faces: Angel Town features some faces you may remember from other action films, like Mike Moroff, who plays Maria and Martin’s wheelchair bound neighbor Frank. Moroff played Jack Romero in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown and one of the criminals who had a run in with Robocop in 1987. Also playing an old kickboxing comrade of Jacques, is Peter Kwong from Big Trouble in Little China fame.
- Unsung Villain: While the gang members are the main villains, Tom McGreevey’s character of Dr. Rice would be crucified today on social media if he were an actual professor at a college spewing his views on women, athletes, etc.
- Imperfect Attendance: By my count, graduate student Jacques actually went to the university twice during the entire movie. His first day and then to one class that he left abruptly after answering one question correctly and then being disrespected by a classmate.
- Song Kumite: I was impressed for a low budget actioner that Angel Town had its own theme song. But while Gil Karson and The Hotheads did a nice job with the song Angel Town, if I ever started presenting Song Kumites, it would totally lose to LIPPS INC’s “Funkytown”!