The 1989 cult classic film Lost Angels, starring Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz in his film debut, lingers long in the memory with the hazy glow of the teenage crush it was (peak AD ROCK!) the real obscurity of the film for a great many years (taped off TV, stolen from video stores, or impossible to find, period) and the special nostalgia that time brings for you if you were young enough to really care about “Chino” for real. A rewatch proves you weren’t wrong to love it. A side note: we talk about nostalgia so casually and usually in a positive sense but its true meaning, from the Greek doubles its impact: the state of pain, grief and distress of a homesickness that is caused by remembering. Yeah. It’s like that y’all.
This movie surfaced recently on Youtube and warranted actually watching a movie in that forum, at that quality and with those comments ( way too many R.I.P.s to the wrong Adam). The anticipation was mixed with anxiety: so much of late 80’s and early 90’s culture is cringe-worthy, a feeling helped along with the passage of time in the viewer, and usually underscored if you happen to have siblings who wrongly assume everything we liked and shared back then is something to reject with extreme, haughty prejudice for haughty prejudice’s sake. But I love the 90’s more with every passing day of writing here, and so am engaged with nostalgia regularly (in a sometimes painful way) that makes me appreciate so much of culture that whizzed by then in a world of too many good options. And in a way that, to my surprise, makes me appreciate my own youthful taste and brain that’s acquired its own vintage as I never expected to do.
Fixed firmly in the 80’s, Los Angeles wealthy suburbia, the film challenges the viewer to care about a very specific sort of conflict: that of latch-key teens with rich, detached parents who treat their kids as overgrown, no longer cuddly puppies, or as impossible to escape baggage from their divorces that keep them tethered to volatile exes. While the experience of the children of messy divorces is no doubt resonant at all income levels and real poverty trumps all, these parents deal with their problems by outrunning them and throwing money at them instead of love: new marriage, redecorated house, trip to China. These kids, when they become unruly, are kenneled in juvenile halls or mental institutions (the latter, until the insurance runs out). It’s a better, earlier and more sensitively told version of Girl Interrupted without Angelina Jolie chewing up the scenery and spitting it out along with Winona Ryder’s scenes. Instead, we have Donald Sutherland in a stellar turn as flawed and coolest ever mental institution Doctor Loftis (who is also the lone trustworthy adult) a pre-office space David Herman (Office Space’s the real “Michael Bolton”) as a troubled teen with a flair for prop comedy (plants) 90’s fixture/cutie Max Perlich and starlet of the moment Amy Locane (who is perfectly cast as the unattainable object of Tim ” Chino” Doolan’s (Adam Horovitz) affection).
All the teens are troubled, and in an indie film way, a robust and believable range of characters emerge, none of whom is a cliche or easily forgotten: not the brown-nosing, morally corrupt and likely sociopathic inmate Barry, who has enough good insurance to become a fixture/ mini-authority figure in the facility, nor the deeply troubled Merilee, who strips down naked and huddles like a child as one of the few kids who is actually profoundly in need of acute care and may just be warehoused in a zoo instead of recovering. Empathy sweats off each frame as the characters and their pain is given the lens their parents deny them even in therapy sessions. Cheryl (Amy Locane) gets Tim and herself both committed after she, as the penultimate rich, vapid, spoiled yet suffering L.A. firecracker decides to wash her mom’s car by way of swimming pool. For Cheryl, promiscuity, drugs and golden age movies fill the hole she lives with inside. Tim has a rescue fantasy that is entirely believable in its sincerety and played to heartbreaking effect.
Lost Angels starts out as a seemingly too-on the nose update on Rebel Without A Cause’s storyline (updated with wannabe rich suburban kids fronting as Latinos and getting into scraps and violent battles with actual Latinos). Tim’s half-brother (and full asshole) Andy (who actually calls himself and emblazons his truck with “NATAS”, Satan backwards) is a bully and a violent maniac who is the only one in Tim’s family who gives a shit about him (it turns out he doesn’t). Andy has pulled Tim into the delinquent activity as both older teens (just below and just above the line of legal “juvenile”) kick out against their parent’s long ago but still ugly divorce and their rootless lives that are not a priority for their parents. Through some pretty serious delinquency that is more of the wrong place, wrong time, awful half-brother variety, Tim gets committed to a private psych hospital.
From this point, the film gets serious (yet balanced with keen humour and pacing, never dour or preachy) and interrogates its subject manner with all the precision and care that Tim’s parents lack. Directed with a rare tonal sensitivity and empathy for a “teens in trouble film” by Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire), the film was entered in 1989’s Cannes festival. The film, with an acclaimed director and some serious pedigree, got limited press and release and might have suffered at the time for Hudson’s choice to cast an unknown as its star. To the extent Adam Horovitz was known at that time would not have been likely well-received in the industry, as this occurred during the shift between The Beastie Boys massive debut record Licence to Ill and the bratty reputation that their worldwide tour of that time garnered them, and before their successful reinvention out in L.A. as the serious creative musicians they would later become through their subsequent albums. The film made no money and was quickly relegated to whatever limited home video market it found and the occasional Pay TV run.
Roger Ebert gave the film a good review at the time “Lost Angels avoids a lot of obvious cliches, treats its characters with dignity and develops them as specific individuals. This is particularly true of the Sutherland character; we get a glimpse of his home life suggesting that he is more dedicated to the kids at the center than to his own family. The portrait of Tim is also interesting: Horovitz doesn’t affect the glamorous moodiness of the usually Hollywood teenage performance, but plays a truly withdrawn, bitter teenager whose real thoughts come out mostly in interior monologues.” Vincent Canby of The New York Times panned it, cynically stating that it looked “less like a film than a series of deals”. Oh, if only we’d had teen bloggers back then.
What is really striking with a rewatch 25 years later, is that the film holds up better than 90% of it’s 80’s counterparts. Its critiques: corrupt, affluent American society; the way it handles problems, particularly where kids in need of real discipline, accountability, purpose and love are concerned; what happens when correctional institutions are the easy way out; are solid and can be linked to over versions of this argument over the years including the broken, thrown away kids who are the undertow of all this Capitalism in HBO’s The Wire who, before you can blink, are all grown up and forever hardened by their heartbreak. The film is also a little quaint; the worst of the problems the films of the time imagined did not fathom a world of teenage school shooters and domestic terrorism as horrific levels of acting out.
crushes loving devotion aside, Adam Horovitz’s performance is a revelation that holds up over 25 years. Here is a rare find-he could have gone anywhere if he had the push of the industry behind him. He’s a natural, skilled actor who brings entirely unexpected depths to the part of Tim, with a sense of his own authentic cool and smarts amid all the chaos he creates or withstands from those around him. It was, somehow, a weirdly natural evolution from the world of Rap and the angry goofiness of The Beasties circa the mid 80’s. I think he was just acting the brat, back then. Horovitz carries the entire film, and also supports the story through narration via inner monologues: doing double duty and taking double the risk. Before 1989, we had only heard this man screech.
Fearlessly, Horovitz goes the distance with no ego, going toe to to with the less skilled young actors AND the one and only Donald Sutherland, who’s given much of the meatier dialogue and had a quarter of a century of experience behind him in 1989. Their numerous scenes alone together are the high points of the film, and really showcase that this is not a vanity part or stunt casting, but was a serious bid in a crowded field. With the dissolution of The Beastie Boys in 2012, Horowitz has finally had some time to return to acting (actually his first love as a teen) in While We’re Young (2014) (and yes, it was the reason to seek this out on the big screen, thankyouverymuch.) As Fletcher, best friend to Ben Stiller’s character Josh, Horovitz shows that he’s still got it, and it makes one long with nostalgia for the big career that might have been if Lost Angels had been widely seen and he’d continued to pursue this course full-time. The Hollywood of the 90’s and 2000’s might just have had a very different shape.
Lost Angels seems to be available on Amazon via DVD, and you can catch clips of it on Youtube at the time of this writing. Indie cred: The Cure’s Fascination Street used over a scene when Tim takes his mom’s car out for a spin.
By Step On Magazine Editors