Review: Dark Angel (1990)

It's not a close encounter.... it's the last.

It’s not a close encounter…. it’s the last.

DARK ANGEL (1990)
Rated R / Color / 91 minutes
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Also Known As: I Come in Peace
Purchase this film: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

In the late ’90s I was just beginning to jump on the DVD bandwagon and started to collect those mysterious “digital versatile discs” that promised better picture quality, extra features, and all that other cool stuff we now take for granted.

Despite building up my movie collection in a new format, I still continued to pick up VHS tapes from various video stores and liquidation outlets. It was during the renaissance of bargain-priced VHS purchases, that I came across a movie called I COME IN PEACE.

I enjoyed the hell out of it, but never revisited the movie. Then years later, when I decided that “hey, I really want to watch Dolph Lundgren fight alien drug dealers from space,” I discovered that I had either sold or given away that particular VHS tape. So it wasn’t until recently that I got a chance to watch it again thanks to the efforts of Scream Factory!

The film features Dolph Lundgren (a guy so tough that armed thieves fled from his house in sheer terror after they realized who lived there) as detective Jack Caine, a cop that doesn’t play by the rules. Jack is fighting a one-man war against a drug kingpin named Victor Manning, which leads to romantic issues with his coroner girlfriend, and the death of his partner.

But the drug war in town really begins to heat up when a being from another world arrives in town to harvest the most sought-after drug in the universe: Human endorphins! The alien drug dealer, named Talec (according to IMDB.com), steals a huge amount of heroin, then forcibly injects it into random people, causing them to overdose.

As each of his victims convulse helplessly before him, Talec jams a wrist-mounted suction needle into their brains to suck out the precious endorphins. As if this weren’t crazy enough, a “space cop” named Azeck eventually arrives to pursue Talec, leading to tons of explosions and severe property damage.

"I come in peace!"

“I come in peace!”

Eventually, it is all up to Jack Caine, and Special Agent Larry Smith (Brian Benben), to save the day. Armed with alien weaponry, spin kicks, and various one-liners, can our two heroes stop Talec from escaping justice?!

DARK ANGEL is an odd mix of the science fiction and buddy cop genres, but somehow it works. The sci-fi elements are rather low-key, and never overshadow the action or the interactions between Dolph and Brian Benben. Things unfold at a good pace, and the script is smart enough to give viewers enough info to figure things out for themselves. The only exposition we require is the reason for Talec’s murder spree.

Conversely, Jack Caine’s beef with Victor Manning and his drug selling yuppie henchmen (a.k.a. “The White Boys”) isn’t handled all that well. Manning apparently went on vacation so he’s never around to threaten Jack or his friends during most of the movie. (Why even bother introducing him?!) Manning’s henchmen are throwaway characters who only serve as cannon fodder, but it is admittedly fulfilling to see them get sliced, diced, and blown up!

And speaking of things blowing up, that’s the main reason to watch this flick! Sure there are some cool makeup and effects, but the real joy here is watching buildings, cars, and people erupting into balls of fire! Since director Craig R. Baxley hails from a long line of stuntmen, he handles the action setpieces quite well, resulting in several memorably explosive moments.

Though it lags a bit here and there, DARK ANGEL is a solid little sci-fi action flick that belies its surprisingly small budget. Dolph Lundgren is capable as the lead, and has a good chemistry with his co-star Brian Benben. They play off of each other pretty well, and help make the more ridiculous moments in the film a little easier to swallow.

"You go in pieces asshole!"

“You go in pieces asshole!”

Also, I’ve gotta give a little love to Matthias Hues for his role as Talec. He has an imposing presence whenever he’s on the screen, and had the physicality to do most of his own stunts. The scene where Talec is fleeing from his intergalactic adversary by leaping across the hoods of a row of exploding cars, was done in one take by Matthias! No stuntman was used to pull that off! How bad-ass is that?!

In the end, I found DARK ANGEL to be a fun and satisfying watch, with lots of action, a strong cast, and an interesting premise that, to my knowledge, has yet to be duplicated. It may not have been as good as I had recalled, but I enjoyed this sci-fi actioner enough to give it:

BLU-RAY REVIEW

The Packaging: DARK ANGEL comes in a standard Blu-ray case with some nifty custom art. As always, if you don’t dig this artwork, you can flip the cover over to show off the original theatrical poster art.

Audio & Video: The disc offers up two audio options – DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.  I watched the movie in 5.1 surround and have no complaints; everything came through loud and clear! The film is showcased in full HD in its original 1.78:1 widescreen ratio, and the picture quality is great! This is easily the best this movie has looked in a very long time!

One little note of curiosity: I just want to point out that while the cover lists the movie’s title as DARK ANGEL, the opening of the film features its alternate title of I COME IN PEACE.

Extras: Seeing as how this is a bit of an obscure title, it’s not too surprising that this disc is a bit light on extras. Along with a theatrical trailer, we get a 24-minute featurette entitled “A Look Back at Dark Angel.” This is a great little production that contains interviews with director Craig R. Baxley, Dolph Lundgren, and Brian Benben.

The last thing Lamar Odom saw before slipping into a coma.

The last thing Lamar Odom saw before slipping into a coma.

It’s fun and informative, and contains some great anecdotes and info about the making of the film, and the stuntwork involved. Craig R. Baxley discusses how the film’s original budget was supposed to be in the ballpark of twenty-five million, but in the end, the producers gave him seven million to get things done. (An impressive feat considering how much destruction takes place in this movie.)

He and Dolph also give their accounts of how one unlucky extra was injured when shooting the liquor store robbery that takes place earlier in the film. Apparently the unfortunate stuntman missed his mark, only to be knocked out by a mighty Dolph spin-kick!

Along with that, there’s a four-minute slideshow of DARK ANGEL/I COME IN PEACE lobby cards, screen stills, and posters. The highlight here of course are all the foreign posters, which easily blow the American theatrical one-sheet out of the water!

Final Ruling: First off, a big thanks to Shout! Factory for lovingly resurrecting yet another cult obscurity from movie limbo. In my wildest dreams, I would never have expected a Blu-ray release for DARK ANGEL, let alone one that delivers a decent presentation of the film, and a worthwhile featurette to go along with it.

Though I would have liked a director (or cast) commentary on the disc, I feel that the folks at Scream Factory have given more than enough TLC to this cinematic artifact from the early 90s. I definitely recommend DARK ANGEL and am more than happy to award its blu-ray release with: