Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Distributed by The Scream Factory
”I come in peace.”
”And you go in pieces, asshole.”
Chances are, if you’re able to recall anything about director Craig Baxley’s 1990 buddy cop/alien drug dealer action flick Dark Angel – more commonly known here in the States as I Come In Peace – it’s that exchange of dialogue. But, really, there’s much more worth remembering (and revisiting) now that Shout! Factory has finally given the film a proper release. Roughshod-cop-versus-alien films were in vogue for a few years after Predator (1987) became a hit, paving the way for films like this and Split Second (1992, and also in dire need of a remastered home video release). Baxley, who hails from a family of veteran stunt actors, put a great deal of effort into the film’s action, maximizing the paltry $5 million budget he had to work with so well that it looks like it was shot for $20 million. The resulting film is a unique mix of buddy cop, mobster, and sinister alien visitor subgenres that somehow manages to steamroll through 90 minutes without any noticeable lagging.
Dolph Lundgren stars as Houston cop Jack Caine, the kind of guy who works out of his car and survives on little food and less sleep. When a drug sting goes wrong, leaving his partner dead, Jack is paired up with straight-laced FBI agent Arwood “Larry” Smith (Brian Benben of HBO’s “Dream On” fame) to bring down the White Boys, a group of white collar criminals who control the city’s drug trade. The group is led by Caine’s old foil, Victor Manning (Howard Sherman, best known to horror fans as “Bub” from Day of the Dead), who blames him for stealing their supply of heroin. But it isn’t Caine Manning should be worried about because the heroin is being used by Talec, a massive, hulking humanoid, as a means to extract endorphins from victims around the city. A spiked tube on his wrist pumps his targets full of heroin, at which point endorphins are released in the brain just as he slams a giant vacuum tube into their heads, sucking them dry. On his trail is an interstellar police officer who tells Caine and Smith that on their planet our endorphins are sold on the black market as a powerful drug. Armed with this knowledge, and a couple of big-ass alien handguns, the two set out to destroy Talec before he annihilates all of Houston.
First off, gotta say I find it very odd that Shout! has chosen to release this film under the international title (which was also used during production) of Dark Angel. While I applaud the geeky lengths they go to in an effort to please fans, releasing a film with a known title under its relatively unknown name isn’t likely to bolster sales. When I informed one of my friends that “Dark Angel” was coming out on Blu-ray, he had no clue what movie I was referring to. Once I mentioned its more common moniker, he was instantly excited. Point is, how can those people be reached if they aren’t familiar with the title it’s being sold under? Only the nerdiest fans are aware of this alternate title. Short rant there, but it’s just a bit puzzling. Plus, let’s be honest here, I Come In Peace sounds way cooler, while Dark Angel sounds like the kind of safe, generic title a producer would give it.
One thing the film can’t be faulted for is a dearth of action. Baxley put forth all of his cinematic magic, and years of honing his craft as a stuntman, to produce action that is on-par with any big-screen tentpole audiences could have seen that year. It is truly unremitting, and by the end of the picture you’ll likely feel as fatigued as the two leads. Anything that looks like it could explode in this film, does. Buildings, cars, and people are all annihilated with extreme prejudice, but, man, does it look glorious on screen. Baxley allows the film to really showcase his work, with lots of wide shots and unique camera work to heighten much of the action. Talec, the film’s Evil Alien, uses a CD-looking disc that hones in on human frequencies to slice up many of his victims. But rather than having someone off-screen toss a disc at someone as they fall holding their throat, the camera is “mounted” to the disc, taking us along for the ride as jugular after jugular is shredded. Every explosion in the film is massive, and if you actually consider how much of downtown Houston was being exploded in the film it’s a wonder the military wasn’t called in. Also, those aliens have huge guns and everything they shoot acts like it was wired with C-4.
Like any good buddy cop film, our two leads appear horribly mismatched at first. Dolph’s character is the top cop who doesn’t play by the rules. We’ve all seen this guy a thousand times. Brian Benben is the stereotypically uptight, staunch FBI agent who adheres to the rulebook like it’s scripture. And, of course, they eventually come to a mutual understanding right when they have to. All of this is nothing new, but these two guys just have good chemistry. Not every odd cinematic pairing feels genuine. Maybe I’m being a tad biased because Benben’s breakout role on “Dream On” was one of my favorites growing up, and here he’s teamed with Ivan Drago, but I doubt I’m alone here.
If there’s any complaint about the film, it’s the mostly pointless White Boys subplot. Yes, it’s kinda funny that there’s a gang of white collar dicks stealing heroin from the cops and blowing up anyplace Caine is spotted, and they’re led by Bub. But it goes nowhere. The only reason for its existence is to give our Evil Alien a place to acquire the large amount of heroin he needs to drug humans. Creating an organization and tying it in to Caine’s partner being killed seems like an obvious and understandable scripting point, but then it just sort of trails off and the film ends with no clear resolution despite the White Boys constantly popping up as a threat.
Whatever you want to call the film (but, seriously, we all know everyone is flipping over that reversible cover art as soon as it’s out of the shrink wrap to display I Come In Peace), Craig Baxley delivered a wildly entertaining, often brutal ride that is finally getting the release it deserves. Matthias Hues is in full-on creep mode as the 6’5” alien drug dealer, Lundgren and Benben have a believable chemistry to keep their relationship interesting, and there’s something or someone being blown up or horribly dispatched every 10 minutes. It’s got all the trappings of the early-‘90s cult classics genre fans can’t get enough of.
Shout! Factory likely used the same HD master MGM prepared for the previously-issued DVD that was part of their Limited Edition (read: burned DVD-r) Collection. As such, the picture looks very cleaned up and polished without featuring any post-processing deficiencies like DNR. There’s a healthy layer of grain present, which provides a more filmic appearance. Fine details are more apparent than ever, although sometimes they are lost to the picture’s rich black levels. Colors appear strong and have a bit of pop to them, and skin tones reveal nice texture and coloration. Hues of blue tend to dominate the color palette. This is clearly a case where the studio commissioned an HD master with minimal tinkering (probably because they simply didn’t feel the film was worth it), resulting in a natural image that benefits from the added resolution. The back cover only lists a stereo track, but rest assured this disc comes packed with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. Still, even with the extra channels most of the soundtrack is relegated to the front and center speakers. Jan Hammer – of “Miami Vice” fame – provides a pulse-pounding synth score that echoes his work on that popular ‘80s culture staple show. It can get a little bombastic when there’s action to be seen, but more often than not the rear speakers are on standby.
There’s one main supplement here, along with a few minor ones. A 25-minute featurette, “A Look Back at Dark Angel”, features recent interviews with director Craig Baxley and stars Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben. Baxley is clearly still exuberant about his work here, talking up every aspect of the production process he can. Did you know that famed screenwriter David Koepp did a rewrite here under a pseudonym? He dispenses with as much information as possible in the runtime, even extending his thoughts into the credits. Dolph and Benben both recall the film with fondness and have a lot of good to say about it. This disc also includes the theatrical trailer (HD) along with a poster and stills gallery that runs for about five minutes, featuring production stills, poster art, etc.
As much as we all love to see Shout! give fans ultra-deluxe editions of our favorite films, it’s fantastic when they tackle titles that have never been given the proper respect on home video. Dark Angel is one helluva fun time, and if it weren’t for Shout!, I don’t know if we’d ever have seen it hit hi-def.
4 out of 5
2 out of 5