Review Date: November 17, 2011
Released by: MGM
Release date: September 29, 2011
Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
The influence of the original Predator
really can’t be overstated. There’s a whole rash of sci-fi/action/horror hybrids following in its wake that probably wouldn’t exist, to say nothing of Arnold Schwarzenegger finally breaking into the mainstream, had it not been for its success. So, while Predator
was a great movie, it has a lot to answer for. It almost singlehandedly caused a glut of Sci-Fi/action hybrids in the late 80s and early 90s. Most of these just took a standard genre plot and swapped out one element in a weak imitation of originality: Eve of Destruction
, Split Second
, all trading in on the success of Predator
. The sub-genre was so prolific there was even a sub-sub-genre of alien buddy cop movies, such as The Hidden
and Alien Nation
. One of the most typical examples of this genre mishmash, Dark Angel
(released in North America as I Come in Peace
), takes a typical mismatched-cops-tracking-down-drug-dealers plot and makes the drug dealer a seven foot albino alien addicted to human endorphins.
Who ever said originality is dead?
Detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren
) is a lone wolf cop who doesn’t play by the rules, but gets results. When a drug sting goes wrong resulting in the death of all suspects as well as his partner, his captain “asks” Caine to take some time off. When he proves unable to stay away from police work he’s teamed him with a wisecracking partner, FBI Special Agent Arwood 'Larry' Smith (Brian Benben
– the unlikeliest action co-star ever). Their first stop as a team: return to the scene of the crime and look for clues as to what happened to the heroin the bust was set up around. What they find: a small disc lodged in a speaker that seems to have been the murder weapon, and with that, the film takes a slight, but very welcome, left turn out of clichésville. What is initially thought to be a drug war between two rival factions has, in fact, an otherworldly explanation: a criminal alien fugitive (Matthias Hues
) and an extraterrestrial police officer (Jay Bilas
) tasked with tracking him have come to earth.
The evil alien, Talec, is a dealer searching for the perfect drug: human endorphins. He’s devised a rather ingenious way to harvest nature’s most potent narcotic: he injects a massive dose of heroin straight into his victim’s heart, then rams a huge spike into their pituitary gland to suck out the endorphin rush that follows the overdose. All the while, he assures that victim: “I Come in Peace.” Uh, sure you do, buddy. Actually, it’s kind a genius line because Hues’ delivery suggests an alien not familiar with English. He’s a tourist on Earth, uttering phrases he’s learned (from an educational CD, perhaps? [Ed: Maybe he got the one from Starman]
) to get a specific result but that he doesn’t actually understand what he’s saying, or the cadence with which it needs to be said to achieve the desired result.
Watching Dark Angel
, I kind of marvel at the fact that Dolph never rose above C-list status. He makes a credible action star and, as much as his English has been a sticking point with some, he’s more intelligible than Schwarzenegger was at a similar point in his career. What he doesn’t have is the same mega-watt charisma as some of the greats. He lacks Arnold’s radiant screen presence or Stallone’s earnest soulfulness. That may have been what kept him from ascending to the A-list, but he certainly should have enjoyed a career path similar to van Damme or Seagal. It wasn’t a great film by any stretch but I’m glad The Expendables
gave Dolph the kind of mainstream exposure last year that he’d been lacking for so long. I was hoping he’d parlay that into a minor career renaissance, sort like the way Mickey Rourke used his Oscar nominated role in The Wrestler
to become the go-to guy for villainous roles but, so far, that hasn’t happened.
Also, I miss the days when a visit to a strip club was an absolutely essential part of an action movie. That’s a cliché that never should have been put out to pasture. Movies, especially action movies, are little more than an opportunity for men to look at attractive women in as little clothing as possible and vicariously live out their power fantasies. I just think there’s something honest about how action movies used to jump through hoops to find a way to work in a strip club scene. It’s like the movie’s saying: “I know what you’re here for and I’m going to make sure you don’t leave the theatre without getting your money’s worth.”
Director Craig R. Baxley (the genius behind 1991’s Stone Cold
, one of the best action movies ever) initially does a solid job of introducing Dark Angel
’s sci-fi elements in a way that prevents the audience from getting too far ahead of the story. Then, about midway through, he lets the otherworldly villain slip out of the picture for a third of the running time and the movie proceeds along as a run of the mill police thriller. The audience already knows what’s up so when the main characters finally figure it out, it’s far too late to truly take advantage of or develop the plot thread. If the writers really wanted to wait so long to tie the two plots together they needed to do a far better job of developing them in parallel. Predator 2
, released the same year and similar in story and structure, did a much better job of keeping the alien front and centre while still keeping his confrontation with Danny Glover until the last act.
’s biggest failing is that, while it’s a competent and totally enjoyable genre programmer, it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself in what was at the time a crowded sub-genre. It adheres to cliché a little too rigidly and eschews opportunity to truly subvert the expected. Worst of all, it takes far too long – nearly an hour of its ninety minute running time - to tie the aliens into the main plot. There’s not nearly enough alien action and what little there is feel shoehorned in. A problem common among these genre mash ups is that the disparate plot threads are so shopworn that most audiences are pretty savvy to what’s to come and it’s a problem that Dark Angel
isn’t able to overcome.
There’s one character too many in this mix: Brian Benben. The character is extraneous in every way possible, adding neither interesting plot complications, a strong character or snappy one-liners into the mix. Dolph’s mismatched partner really should have been the alien cop. I guess they wanted to avoid direct comparisons to direct antecedents The Hidden
and Alien Nation
, but Dark Angel
winds up serving as an example of why those plots worked as well as they did: in what’s supposed to be a sci-fi movie, an extraterrestrial makes a far better fish out of water than a nerdy, pencil pushing FBI agent.
If the film dawdles in getting the cop and sci-fi plots to intersect, it spends the last twenty minutes trying to compensate. The finale of Dark Angel
is a ridiculous, over-the-top orgy of gunfire, explosions, car chases, slashed throats and a showdown at an abandoned power plant (of course). It’s this brand of undemanding, low rent action spectacle that the reptile part of my brain really eats up. It doesn’t totally make up for the plot’s meandering but it finishes the movie on a high note, nonetheless. Too late, certainly, but not too little.
It’s not a deal-breaker but it does prevent Dark Angel
from really working as well as it had the potential to. The action scenes are fun but not particularly memorable until the conclusion, the aliens under-designed and the dialogue every bit as stock as the plot. That it moves at a good clip and always has something to hold the audience’s attention makes it fun to watch, but it doesn’t wind up leaving much of an impression.
The video on this release Dark Angel
displays a softness characteristic of early 90’s filmmaking. Grain is, to my surprise, well reproduced but fine detail still lacks throughout. The source material has been well taken care of: there’s no serious print damage and almost none of the dirt or small blemishes you’d expect. Even the obviously optically composited scenes are clean. As long as the scene is well lit and clean, the film looks acceptable. Whenever there’s smoke, steam or fire, however, the compression turns the picture into a pixellated, blocky mess. It’s actually quite shocking how terrible it looks at times. Still, Dark Angel
is shot in a flat, largely uninteresting style with a dull sheen and waivers between being over and under lit. Even with a full re-master, there’s a limit to how good this movie will ever look.
This kind of sci-fi action film cries out for a 5.1 remix. The whirling of the alien’s killer CDs would have been a great opportunity to utilize a full sound field and all the gun battles and explosions would have benefitted from the punch of a LFE channel. Alas, all we’re given is a pretty typical Dolby Digital 2.0 track. It’s fine for what it is - dialogue, music and sound effects are well balanced and never intrude on one another. Serviceable, but can’t be counted as anything but a missed opportunity.
The alien comes in peace, and this disc comes with the International Trailer (2.35).
The jumbled plotting and rote nature of Dark Angel
ensured that didn’t become an enduring classic, but I find hard to imagine anybody into sci-fi, action or buddy cop films not having fun with it. Dolph Lundgren is a great, under rated action hero and although he never got the chance to break out into truly mainstream fare it’s nice to see him in a slightly higher budgeted vehicle before he got shuffled off to the wasteland of direct to video limbo.
The $20 sticker price of the manufacture on demand release is a bit too steep for a middling movie with middling presentation but if you can get it on sale for half off, it’s a pretty decent way to spend ten bucks. Even better, check out Baxley’s next film: 1991’s Stone Cold
. Given an official release and priced under $10, it will deliver the kind of elaborate action fireworks that will really satisfy your craving for large scale carnage. Seriously, go get it. It’s awesome.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour and 31 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- International Theatrical Trailer