DARK ANGEL, starring Dolph Lundgren, is now on blu ray for the first time, courtesy of the great Shout Factory. This was actually a long time format holdout that never even made it to the standard definition DVD until MGM finally made it a manufacture-on-demand disc less than 2 years ago. Many Americans might not have noticed it because they know it under a different name, I COME IN PEACE. Weirdly the old VHS I used to watch said I COME IN PEACE on the box and DARK ANGEL on the actual title card when you watched it. The new blu ray has that reversed. And this is the rare case where the generic, not-very-distinct title is the international one, and the American one is the good one. Because this big glowing-eyed alien played by Matthias Hues (KICKBOXER 2, TALONS OF THE EAGLE, TC 2000) keeps saying he comes in peace, but he doesn’t. He’s just saying that to fuck with us.
(Shout Factory has respectfully created a reversible cover, so you can flip yours around to say I COME IN PEACE. But honestly the DARK ANGEL artwork is much better.)
Director Craig R. Baxley was a veteran stunt man, stunt coordinator and second unit director (he did PREDATOR!) before he started directing A-Team episodes and then graduated to a director of feature length movies for the big screen (and later television). Most important to me are his first little trilogy of features which started with ACTION JACKSON, continued with this one and culminated in the spectacular STONE COLD (which I sure hope Shout Factory has their eye on for a future release). All three are straight-faced but knowingly ridiculous movies full of crazy concepts, funny dialogue and energetic action, with a heavy emphasis on huge, fiery explosions. They get funny and charismatic performances out of their musclehead leads and pit them against memorably larger-than-life villains. But this is the only one where the bad guy isn’t just some killer, he’s “some asshole from outer space.”
As far as Dolph Lundgren knows at the beginning he’s just in a cop movie. He plays Detective Jack Caine, “the only man I know who’d rather die than break his word.” He’s out in the car listening on headphones as his partner Ray (Alex Morris) goes in wearing a wire to make a major drug deal with a gang called The White Boys, Patrick Bateman looking motherfuckers who wear business suits, meet in a board room and bore poor Ray with a long talk about their college degrees.
Unfortunately for Ray this is also the type of movie where any good guy is likely to be nearby when a gang of punks goes in to rob a convenience store, so Caine abandons his post to foil the robbery and misses the whole thing. So not only does he fail to save his partner, but he doesn’t see that he and the whole gang of White Boys were massacred by a behemoth who fired a CD-like disc that bounced around the room and sliced all their throats. This guy is from space and it’s gonna take more than Reese’s Pieces to appease him.
Of course Caine’s boss wants to send him on vacation, and he wants to get the guy who killed his partner, but luckily the FBI wants him to partner with Special Agent Smith (Brian Benben) to investigate what happened. It’s like you’d expect: Caine believes in winging it and following his instincts, Smith believes in following the rules. Caine has a network of low life weirdos he uses to get information (including Michael J. Pollard as “Boner” and Mark Lowenthal as caffeine-addicted “Bruce the Scientist), Smith has to “follow procedure” and reports everything to his untrustworthy boss. Smith realizes he misjudged Caine when he finds out he collects art and enjoys wine.
But their big-tough-guy/little-tight-ass bickering is genuinely pretty funny as they begrudgingly work together to investigate the crime scene, discover evidence of alien technology and then find out they have to somehow prove that this is indeed part of a drug war but it’s one from another planet. It turns out this alien (who keeps killing people by attaching tentacles to their chests and then drilling their heads) is stealing heroin from the drug gangs and injecting it into humans so he can harvest their endorphins to sell as drugs wherever he comes from. Basically he looks at us and he doesn’t see us as unique individuals, he sees us as poppy fields or those toads that people lick.
(That’d be funny if they arrested him and charged him with possession of narcotics instead of murder. Might be a longer sentence.)
Good news: there’s a non-asshole from outer space too. Azeck (ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas) is an alien cop who chases the big guy and warns our side that we better stop him because if word gets back to their planet what a stash of endorphins we got going here it’ll turn into the fuckin Gold Rush. With us as the river.
This secret sci-fi war going on in an urban setting reminds me of THE TERMINATOR and BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, but Baxley puts his unique spin on it. I love the amount of overkill in the alien’s weaponry. His gun is so powerful it sets a guy on fire and shoots him through a window like a cannon. At least two times it manages to blow up nearby cars when it’s fired. His flying disc thing shoots all around a room and can kill a crowd of guys in about 10 seconds. Baxley’s camerawork has a Sam Raimi kinda energy to it as it follows right behind the flying blade or, later, the juice-alien tentacle as it attacks Caine.
There are some cool low budget effects – my favorite being when Azeck is dying in the back seat of Smith’s car (spoiler), and his body cracks apart, glowing, and then explodes. Man, alot of people lose their cars in this movie. I didn’t even mention the random guy in the opening scene whose brand new car the alien crash lands on. In fact, not as much as in ACTION JACKSON, but cars are kind of a theme in this one. The White Boys are all very protective of their Italian sports car, so Caine is able to storm their corporate headquarters just by setting off their alarms and causing them to run outside.
I think this is one of Dolph’s better roles. I like when he’s a wiseass charismatic guy like here or in SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO or BLACKJACK better than his monosyllabic meathead ones like RED SCORPION. It’s funny to see a character like this react to being in a sci-fi movie. When they get ahold of one of the alien weapons he calls it “the space gun.” To the killer he says “Fuck you, space man!”
This is the only time I’ve seen Hues play something other than the long-haired kickboxing henchman. He looks pretty scary done up white hair and eyes, and does a good Terminator type performance. Maybe the only time he shows emotion is during a car chase when he causes a cop to crash his motorcycle and then he smiles.
Speaking of guys who usually play henchmen, this space man gets to kill Al Leong. That’s how he knows he made it in action movies.
There’s no commentary track on this new disc, but the 24 minute retrospective featurette I’m sure has as much info as that would’ve. They interview Baxley, Lundgren and Benben. All of them seem genuinely fond of the movie and happy to talk about it. Baxley immediately reveals a fact I never knew (and isn’t even on IMDb), that co-writer “Leonard Maas Jr.” is a pseudonym for David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, STIR OF ECHOES, SNAKE EYES, SPIDER-MAN, etc. etc.).
There’s alot of talk about the stunts. I feel like they could’ve removed 2-3 of the mentions of “remember, this was before CGI, this was all real,” but it’s cool to hear them talking about not using stunt doubles very much and all the giant fireballs they had to really run from and stuff like that. I didn’t realize how low budget this was (about $7 million). Baxley complains that when the producers saw how much action he was getting they wouldn’t let him film some of the scenes he wanted, because they already had enough to get by. Like they wanted to make sure it wasn’t too awesome.
Luckily Baxley and company did sneak through a high volume of awesomeness, and the sci-fi aspect makes it stand out from other movies of this type. Obviously it’s not in the same arena as big studio movies like PREDATOR, but at the same time it’s of a much higher quality than the sci-fi action made by Full Moon and people like that. I think I COME IN PEACE should be seen by all fans of ’80s and ’90s b-action, and this is the best way to see it, unless you are reading this in the year 1990 and it’s still playing in a theater near you. If so that’s awesome man, go do that.
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