Blu-ray Review: DARK ANGEL

BC reflects fondly on the ultimate '80s Dolph Lundgren action flick.

Dolph Lundgren has only appeared in two films with dark hair instead of his usual blond, neither of which really helped his box office clout in the US any. One was The Punisher, which went through post-production hell before being dumped directly to video, and the other was I Come In Peace, aka Dark Angel, which had slightly better success in that it got a real theatrical release. And while it didn't exactly break box office records (though its $4.3m take is more than any other Dolph-as-hero vehicle post Masters of the Universe, for what it's worth), I am proud to be among the few ticket buyers to the film - it was in fact the first R rated movie I got to see in theaters without parental supervision (the parents were next door seeing Ghost, if memory serves).

I bring that up as a sort of full disclosure - the movie obviously holds some sentimental value, which might account for why I think it's better than its 5.6 rating on IMDb might have you believe. But if you're a fan of 80s action films, I honestly can't see what's not to like about this one, as it delivers pretty much every single plot point you love about this movies in one package. I mean, just the fact that it's one of the few movies to combine the "cop seeks revenge for the death of his partner" AND the "comically mismatched new partners" concepts (it's usually one or the other - Murtaugh didn't have a partner before Riggs, don't forget) is enough to warrant some respect, but it piles on just about everything else for good measure. Angry ex-girlfriend that slowly falls back in love with our hero? Check. Equally angry police captain who throws our hero off the case (twice, in fact)? Check. A finale set inside of an abandoned factory? Check. Drug dealers? Oh my, check. The fact that the movie runs 91 minutes and never manages to smash a fruit cart is something of a miracle, though at least two big windows are driven through to make up for it.

Oh, and aliens. That part of the plot is actually kind of inventive - our villain isn't some Colombian drug lord sick of our hero's meddling, but an honest to god space alien who has come to earth in order to use human endorphins to create what is considered a very potent (and thus, lucrative) drug on his home planet. The movie cleverly spreads out the process to turn it into a bit of a mystery - it's not until the 3rd or 4th kill that we see what the alien is doing; a process in which he injects the body with heroin (which mixes with the endorphins) and then extracts it into a little vial. But where there are evil drug dealers, there must be a cop trying to stop them, and thus there's a good alien as well (so in the process, we get a bit of The Terminator deja vu along with everything else, as we're not sure what side he's on at first). Were this a bigger budgeted movie, it might unfold from their perspective, showing them on their planet before arriving on Earth and using their advanced weaponry to have an all out war with civilians caught in the middle, but I love that it remains grounded, keeping the alien stuff to a bare minimum and keeping our focus on the hilariously named Jack Caine. The major exception is the alien's method of killing: a magnetized, razor-sharp disc that is tuned to the small electrical frequency generated by the human body, making it an extremely deadly and hard-to-avoid weapon.

Along the way, Caine has to deal with the "White Boys", a group of yuppie drug dealers who refuse to kill him when he bursts into their office because they don't want to ruin the carpet. The group is run by Bub from Day of the Dead and Bernard from Lost, but luckily for us, all of their underlings are built for stuntwork, so whenever the aliens are off doing something else, the movie doesn't hurt for action, as Dolph is constantly kicking these goons around or slamming them into walls. I was actually shocked to learn that the budget of the movie was a mere 7 million, as it's more jam-packed with action than most films of the era that cost much more. There are two car chases (one of which is lengthy and quite destructive), several big fights, and what had to be a record for explosions before Michael Bay came along - and all of this in a pre-VFX driven world, mind you. The stuntwork in the film is phenomenal and often very dangerous; Matthias Hues (the bad alien, and also a Decathlon champ) was sort of forced into doing most of his own stunts because he was so big there wasn't a stuntman who could convincingly cover for him, so that's really him running from explosions going off just a few feet away as he jumps from car to car during the big parking garage sequence. Say what you will about the movie's script, but you can't deny that the action choreography here is top-notch.

Oh, but if you DO want to bitch about the script, take it up with David Koepp, who wrote it under a pen name for reasons unknown (embarrassment doesn't work - he's fine with Crystal Skull?). I never knew this, but it's the first thing revealed by director Craig Baxley on the film's retrospective interview piece. Dolph and co-star Brian Benben also offer up new interviews, and they are all proud of the film and pretty much everyone that worked on it. Sometimes these things, with 20+ years having gone by, are a treasure trove of dirt, but apart from Dolph accidentally kicking one of the stuntmen in the face (the other guy missed his mark), it seems everything about the movie went perfectly. It's not the best edited piece I've ever seen; in addition to the frequent use of lo-res clips (they look like they were swiped from Youtube), there are a couple of occasions where they reuse a piece of an interview - you'll twice hear Benben discuss a particular stunt he had to perform. They also don't mention the film's two names, a source of confusion that continues to this day (the disc is being released under Dark Angel, but the film itself has I Come In Peace), though thankfully Shout! has you covered for whichever name you prefer - the I Come In Peace title/artwork is on the reverse side of the standard Dark Angel cover. The Don LaFontaine-voiced trailer (It’s Christmas. Someone special is coming to town. And it’s NOT Santa Claus!”) and a collection of lobby cards/posters are also included, making this a pretty nice package.

Like the recent release of The Joshua Tree (aka Army of One - what is it with Dolph movies?), I really enjoyed going back to the time of stunt-driven, practical, and simple action movies. I think this is the superior film, but either one is a fine example of how much different (and in my opinion, better) action movies used to look and feel. We don't get anything like this anymore; even Dolph's modern movies tend to be more complicated and feature less variety in their action sequences - not to mention look much cheaper. And whatever you want to call it, this one has been long abandoned on home formats - it never got a real DVD release, only one of those cheapo "on demand" disc releases from MGM, so to finally have a legit release - on Blu-ray! - is a real treat to this fan. 5.1 HD sound for the film's glorious final exchange between Dolph and the alien? Worth every penny.