Home Video Hovel: Dark Angel, by Aaron Pinkston
Dark Angel was perhaps a casualty of the 1980s action movie star system. If Detective Jack Caine (definitely an action movie name) was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, or even Hulk Hogan, it probably would have been remembered and maybe even a hit. I certainly hadn’t heard of the film, also released as the more appropriately titled I Come in Peace, and so my expectations were pretty low. Turns out, it’s a pretty decent low-budget action film — not on the level of the best of the era and not without problems, but worthy of its new release on Blu-ray.
Instead of an A-lister, Houston vice cop Jack Caine is played by Dolph Lundgren. Yes, the hulkish Swede best known as a jacked up Russian pugilist. Like the film, Lundgren actually isn’t too bad, not nearly as miscast as he seems on paper. As expected, he’s hollow at times and you can’t help but think of Arnold gushing over the one-line zingers, but he has just enough natural charisma and certainly the physique to pull it off. The character has a cool, laid back demeanor and needs to be both rugged and quick-witted. Lundgren doesn’t hit a homerun, but his on base percentage is good enough to carry the film.
The plot of Dark Angel puts Caine in the path of an alien drug dealer, come down to Earth to harvest a potent drug specific to our planet. Without getting into specifics, the sci-fi premise is actually pretty inventive and maybe even smart (at least not stupid). Though the film doesn’t necessarily comment on the war on drugs, it uses the widespread problem and heightens it to an extreme. By using a menacing alien as the stereotypical drug dealer, the film also uses the cinematic trope of aliens coming down to kill humans for our resources, tweaking the resource to be an illegal drug. If this was the plot of an episode of The X-Files (and maybe it is, I don’t know), it wouldn’t feel too out of place.
The alien design is simple, but manages to be adequately creepy. They look like any random villain from the era: massive, with a bad haircut, blank stare, dressed in a black trench coat. Still, they’re adeptly emphasized in their greatest attribute, in that they are freaking huge. This is done partly through shot selection tricks, but even when they are in full frame they still carry their imposing stature. The main baddie is played by Matthias Hues, a German Olympic athlete who stands at 6’8 and is particularly good in action. His size and athleticism are put to good use, as he plays his own stunt man in his action set pieces. Hues isn’t asked to do too much in the acting department, just sort of be big and mean, so that works well enough. As a bit of trivia, the second alien is played by Jay Bilas, a former basketball player at Duke who is now a top hoops analyst at ESPN.
To focus on the negative, Dark Angel takes on a little too much in terms of style and genre. It is best in its sci-fi/horror set-up, but also crams in a buddy cop comedy, hard boiled neo-noir and the obvious 1980s-style action flick. Taking all this on, it feels a bit jumbled at times. As the third act kicks in and the final showdown is in full effect, the film feels like a Terminator knock-off. Dark Angel is a bit derivative by the end, but it is undeniably watchable and entertaining. It also doesn’t play full-on into camp, which probably would have been easy, but ultimately make the film more disposable. I imagine those that do remember it have fond memories and I’m glad that it gets an opportunity to meet a new audience now with this release.
Released by Shout! Factory, this is the second recent film they’ve put out that I’ve reviewed for this site (along with the much inferior The Incredible Melting Man). Like Melting Man, the Blu-ray transfer is really good — though the films Shout! Factory has released may not be the top of the line, they put a commendable amount of care to make sure the film looks good and is worth seeing. Included on the Blu-ray is a 25-minute interview feature with director Craig R. Baxley and stars Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben. The feature touches on the production of the film and has a generally “we had so much fun” tone. There wasn’t a lot of talk about problems in the production that a small-budget film usually has; Baxley actually praises the work of his special effects people for doing such good work without much money (Lundgren also mentions that there wasn’t CGI back then at least 4-5 times). Though the interviews don’t do much to help enhance the film, it is thoughtfully produced, using footage from the film to highlight specific scenes or moments the talking heads mention.