Friday, August 9, 2013

DARK ANGEL (aka I COME IN PEACE) (1990) Blu-ray Review

Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace) (1990) d. Baxley, Craig R. (USA)

While I distinctly remember the trailer for the bombastic '80s sci-fi actioneer I Come in Peace (released in 1990, but like that year’s other big-bam-boom-blammo alien assassin flick, Predator 2, this one screams the prior decade), I elected to pass on it both during its brief theatrical run nor did it ever make the final cut when dragging armloads of video rentals to the checkout counter. While I enjoyed the concept of an unfriendly E.T. having learned just enough English to catch his quarry off guard, it wasn’t enough to push me over the cliff. Chalk it up to the fact that I was still waist-deep in catching-up mode during the VHS boom, and well, headliner Dolph Lundgren wasn’t exactly someone whose filmography piqued much interest. Time passed, and in all that time, no one had ever come along to insist I had missed out on some kind of overlooked gem, so I continued to ignore it.

Well, someone among the good people at Shout! Factory apparently begged to differ; since those kids know their stuff, I took their recent decision to release the film to Blu-ray under its international Dark Angel moniker (although the film still carries its U.S. name on the title card) as a bona-fide recommendation. With the sweet smell of nostalgia for a simpler time perfuming the proceedings, the 91 minutes spent watching Dolph and co-star Brian Benben match wits and quips with giant beefy aliens sporting WWF hair and razor blade CD projectiles go down mighty easy. Stunt coordinator extraordinaire Craig R. Baxley, with numerous A-Team episodes and the Carl Weathers vehicle Action Jackson on his directorial C.V. to that point, saddles up to take viewers on a wild, breezy, nonsensical ride that remains the same enjoyably enthusiastic fare it likely always was.

Amidst the plethora of action clichés, there is the appreciably inspired notion of alien drug runner Matthias Hues coming down to Earth and robbing the local greasy hood of his latest heroin shipment, using the drug to create a high concentration of endorphins in his human incubators, then extracting them from their pituitary glands via a menacing wrist spike. Apparently on this galactic scumbag’s home joint, human endorphins are the fo-shizzle commanding top dollar (or whatever rate of exchange they use on Wrestlematon) and Hues is here to harvest the latest bumper crop of “Barcy.” Of course, this kinda chicanery ain’t flying with tough rebel cop Lundgren, whose latest sting operation – targeting the same greasy hood – has just gone down the toilet. This recent foul-up brings in buttoned down FBI agent Benben, as much a cliché in his tightassedness as Dolph with his blunt macho posturing; naturally the two end up playing out two episodes of The Bickersons before earning each other’s mutual respect for the final united front.

These established conventions of 80s excess – slick suits, slicker hair, skinny ties, muscular brutes, huge bags of drugs and even bigger explosions – were the likely the very elements that earned the flick its lukewarm reviews two decades prior. But with time, the cartoony nature serves the fantastical premise and narrative especially well. (The scene where Lundgren sets off a row of car alarms in order to create a distraction, sending a lobby full of yuppie businessmen scurrying out into the streets, is likely even funnier now than it was at the time.) To further seal the deal, we have Jan Hammer’s synthy music score and the requisite craptastic pop tune (“Touch Me Tonight by Shooting Star) over the final credits. Finally, ubiquitous ’80s character actor Albert Leong (you know, the balding Asian guy with the stringy mullet and Fu Manchu mustache from Lethal Weapon and Die Hard) makes a brief appearance as the “Luggage Dealer.”

A number of reviews have called Dark Angel Lundgren’s finest performance; not being a true connoisseur of the 6’5 Swede’s thesping efforts, I can neither confirm nor deny this. What I can say is that he throws several impressive spin kicks, delivers his one-liners with seasoned offhandedness and often brings to mind the laconic masculinity of Chuck Connors. Benben is saddled with the unenviable gig of supercilious comic foil, but the Dream On and Private Practice TV vet manages to generate some genuine chemistry with his towering co-star. I’m also a fan of No Retreat, No Surrender 2’s Hues’ physical presence as the giant alien (with former college basketball star and current ESPN correspondent Jay Bilas as the extraterrestrial DEA agent on his trail). I do wish more had been made of Hues’ ironic “I come in peace” killer catchphrase – nothing is really done with it except provide Lundgren with a classic rejoinder in the final showdown. Not only do we never find out which alien dictionary he learned it from, he never even uses it in a disarming fashion – it’s usually delivered after Hues has already laid his victim out and in the process of finishing them off.

Technically, the explosive action sequences are smartly staged by Baxley, the highlight of which is probably the zippy vignette in which the inexplicably automotively inclined alien gives chase to the mismatched law enforcement pair (elevated by the novel twist of the bad guy commandeering a black and white to pursue our heroes in their unmarked station wagon). Veteran Tony Gardner is credited with special effects makeup work alongside Larry Hamlin (Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat), dishing up Hues’ and Bilas’ opaque contact lenses, several snazzy throat slashes and gooey alien splatter for good measure. It’s worth mentioning that the “harvesting” scenes where Hues first injects his human hosts with heroin and then sucks out their precious bodily fluids are cool the first time, then increasingly tedious since they are staged in nearly identical fashion. (A different camera angle might have gone a long way in these cases.)

Shout! Factory has delivered another gorgeous 1080p widescreen presentation, with 5.1 DTW-HD or 2.0 DTS-HD audio options. Along with the original trailer and a poster and still gallery, we are treated to a brand new 25-minute retrospective, “A Look Back at Dark Angel,” that reunites Baxley, Lundgren and Benben for a talking head mutual admiration society. Much of the emphasis falls on how much Baxley and his estimable stunt team (which includes numerous family members) were able to pull off in-camera on their limited $7 million budget – watching all the fireballs occur with actors in frame, one truly appreciates the skills of a bygone era.

One of the most interesting factoids to arise (one that has even eluded the IMDb credits gods) is that co-writer Leonard Maas, Jr. (credited for the script with Jonathan Tydor) is revealed to be a pseudonym for successful Hollywood scribe David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man) – who knew?

Dark Angel is available now for pre-order from Shout! Factory, releasing on August 27, 2013

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


  1. "Dolph Lundgren wasn’t exactly someone whose filmography piqued much interest."

    I weep for your soul.

  2. I agree with it seeming more entertaining now than it did back in the day, but it was still damned fun then too.

    Have you ever seen RED SCORPION? Very underrated post-RAMBO movie with a solid performance by Dolph, who shows a bit more range than usual. Joe Zito directs, M. Emmet Walsh co-stars and Tom Savini provides some grue. Can't beat that.

    1. I've not seen RED SCORPION, although with those credits, color me intrigued. I'll have to track in down while I'm still riding high on Dolph. The other one I still need to track down is the latest UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, which I recall you giving high marks to as well.