Dark Angel (aka I Come in Peace) Blu-ray Review
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Written by Jonathan Tydor and Leonard Maas Jr.
1990, Region A, 91 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 27th, 2013
Dolph Lundgren as Det. Jack Caine
Brian Benben as Special Agent Smith
Betsy Brantley as Diane Pallone
Matthias Hues as Bad Alien
David Ackroyd as Inspector Switzer
Howard Sherman as Victor Manning
Michael J. Pollard as Boner
Al Leong as Luggage Salesman
The White Boys is an organized crime syndicate running heroin through the city of Houston, and Detective Jack Caine is determined to bring it down. When crime lord Victor Manning kills Caine's partner during an undercover operation, he has effectively signed his own death warrant, as this cop is not afraid to break the rules in the name of justice. But things get complicated when a bunch of Victor's men are found dead and a large amount of heroin is missing from a crime scene. Caine is saddled with an FBI boyscout named Smith, but before you can say “buddy cop picture”, an alien drug dealer arrives and the body count rapidly accelerates.
Wait a minute—is there really a spaceman slinging rocks in the Houston 'hood? No, that would be silly. This giant baddie is killing random people by injecting them with huge amounts of heroin and then sucking out their brain juice during their endorphin filled high. Apparently this is the easiest way to acquire a much more potent narcotic that is extremely popular on the streets of whichever planet this dude is from. Luckily for the citizens of Earth, Caine and Smith are on the case and lucky for them, there is an intergalactic cop in hot pursuit. He arrives on the scene just long enough to provide some exposition before expiring.
If this were presented as a straight forward police procedural it would be laughed off the screen, but fortunately the filmmakers know exactly what type of flick they are making and the results are pure entertainment. In the cinematic landscape populated with such gems as Predator, Split Second and Alien Nation comes an awesome addition known around the world as Dark Angel. Due to some copyright issues regarding that moniker, the film was released in the United States as I Come in Peace. Neither title makes much sense, but the domestic name plays to the infamous final punchline of dialogue that I won't spoil here.
Director Craig R. Baxley (Action Jackson) is part of a legendary family of stunt performers and knows his way around an action set piece. I had forgotten how much shit blows up and flies through the air in this movie. If the director has a signature shot, it involves placing his actors in close proximity to gigantic fireballs and having them run towards camera. Dark Angel is packed with action sequences involving martial arts, gun fights, car chases and giant explosions that are sure to impress the most jaded junkies of ‘80s slick action films. Baxley keeps things moving at the speed of a bullet train and never looks back, denying audiences the time to mull over any plot holes or dropped character threads.
The film is further assisted by the skills of veteran cinematographer Mark Irwin (Scream) whose work in the genre is staggering. There are countless over-the-top action set pieces and each one is clearly defined and easy to follow, whereas today's movies trend towards sticking the camera too close to the subjects and causing confusion of content. Irwin brings an inventiveness to some shots, like the flying disc POV that adds an extra bit of excitement to an already lively presentation. The picture reportedly had two-thirds of its budget slashed before filming even began, but looking at the end result you would never know it.
Also working from Baxley's corner is the lightning fast script by Jonathan Tydor and Leonard Maas Jr. The piece could easily fall into a by-the-numbers routine of sloppy writing but instead takes a few occasions to expand on character development from which the film greatly benefits. There are quite a few moments of levity and the actors do more than just bicker. Make no mistake, despite my gushing, this is still a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks sci-fi/action flick, but it is well made and doesn't take itself too seriously. As an added bonus, we learn in the featurette on this disc that Maas is actually a pseudonym for screenwriting heavyweight David Koepp (Stir of Echoes, Jurassic Park).
The cast is surprisingly solid and the chemistry between Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion) and Brian Benben (HBO's Dream On) as Caine and Smith respectively, is strong. The height discrepancy sight gags are well played as Lundgren stands almost a foot taller than his fellow actor. Betsy Brantley (The Princess Bride) holds her own as the lovestruck coroner and German Olympian Matthias Hues is effectively creepy as the towering evil alien who is surprisingly nimble in those giant boots. Genre fans are in for a treat as the supporting players are a bunch of familiar faces including Howard Sherman (Day of the Dead) as Victor Manning, Michael J. Pollard (Tango & Cash) as Boner the informant, and perennial ‘80s henchman Al Leong (Big Trouble in Little China, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) as the drug dealing luggage salesman.
Watching Dark Angel (I Come in Peace) is a fun way to spend either a rainy afternoon or an evening with friends. You won't confuse this movie with Citizen Kane, but it's not exactly dreck either. As for where this lands in the Dolph Lundgren pantheon of cinema, I place it above Masters of the Universe and The Punisher but below Showdown in Little Tokyo and Universal Soldier. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it really is meant to be sincere. While the Dolphenator (as nobody refers to him) is forever linked with Rocky IV, this picture has developed quite a following and if you've not seen it before, then now is the time to correct that oversight.
Video and Audio:
Dark Angel is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks rather nice for its age and budget. The print is in fine shape and features strong colors with natural looking flesh tones and decent contrast levels. The image is much stronger than all previous versions, as one would expect, and fans will not be disappointed.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is plenty active, but surprisingly restrained considering the number of explosions. The surrounds get some love, but the majority of the action remains front-heavy and a little light on bass. Purists will be happy with the inclusion of the original mono track, offered here in DTS-HD MA 2.0. English subtitles are provided.
A Look Back at Dark Angel (24 minutes) features separately recorded interviews with director Baxley and stars Lundgren and Benben. The three share many amusing anecdotes from their time working on the film, several referencing the height discrepancy between the two leads. Baxley speaks freely of the budgetary restrictions and how his history as a stunt coordinator came to benefit the finished picture.
A marketing gallery of stills and poster art are joined by the original theatrical trailer to round out the special features.
It is mildly disappointing that there is not an interview with the evil alien Matthias Hues, but what's really missing is a commentary track with any of the participants. Still, this is better treatment than the film has ever seen before.
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