Dark Angel (Scream Factory Blu-ray)

Directors - Craig R. Baxley

Cast - Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 1

Distributor - Shout Factory

Reviewer - Bobby Morgan

Date - 08/24/13

The Film: 4/5

 

Drug deals gone south, convenience store hold-ups, explosions left and right. These things and much more are all in a day's work for Houston police detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren). But even this battle-hardened supercop isn't prepared when a hulking, murderous alien (Matthias Hues) arrives on Earth and starts offing random citizens so he can use a supply of heroin stole from a yuppie crime gang called the White Boys to supercharge and feed off their endorphins. Caine is compelled by his superiors to take on fresh-faced FBI agent Larry Smith (Brian Benben) as his temporary partner in the investigation. Immediately the cop and Fed clash over Smith's by-the-book approach to tracking the killer down but they come to a begrudging respect. Meanwhile another alien (Jay Bilas) has followed the baddie to our world to bring him to interplanetary justice before an all-out drug war of the worlds erupts in the streets, and only Caine and Smith are capable of getting the job done. The extraterrestrial junkie may state countless times that he comes in peace but unless our heroes act fast he'll be reducing them and this planet to pieces.

 

Most people know this movie as I Come in Peace, but for some reason it has made its Blu-ray debut under the alternate European release title Dark Angel. No matter, I will refer to it by the name myself and my Yankee brethren have come to know it as, for that is the American way. And in the finest American traditions of cinema, I Come in Peace is highly digestible cinematic junk food directed by a guy who knows a thing or two about how to make hard-driving entertainment beautiful and virtually poetic in its simplicity. Craig R. Baxley got his start in the film industry as a stunt man, then graduated to second unit directing before kickstarting his directing career with nine episodes of The A-Team. In 1988 he made it to the big time with the Carl Weathers-starring franchise non-starter Action Jackson, and when that movie failed to do any business Baxley stepped behind the camera to call the shots on I Come in Peace and later Stone Cold before retiring from feature films to spend the rest of his career in television and direct-to-video flicks.

 

I have seen Stone Cold many times in my life and as far as sleazy, cock rocket 90's action movies go it's one of the ultimates, so I can see why Baxley would want to call it quits in big screen features after delivering an act that would be impossible to top even Jesus Christ directed an action movie about a sentient, human-sized bulging erect penis fighting an army of topless Nazi she-devils with a script written by Ernest Hemingway and then polished by an uncredited Sam Peckinpah. If I haven't sent you running away from your computer screaming with that last colorful passage then please feel free to continue with this review.

 

Baxley had the good fortune of securing the star services of Dolph Lundgren in his prime - and still with his jet black Punisher hair - as a silver screen action hero. Dolph rules, plain and simple. Though he's never gotten enough credit for his acting, I've always found Lundgren to be a solid performer nestled somewhere on the emoting spectrum between Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He delivers his cheesy one-liners with the panache of a true professional and has terrific screen presence. Plus he works marvelously with Brian Benben, more of a straight dramatic actor with a flair for goofball comedy, as the bickering buddy cop partnership of the movie. Benben is great as the clean cut square Fed as he gets to be both the comic relief and kick a little ass with his fists and a piece of recovered alien firepower during the action-intense third act. Actress and former Mrs. Steven Soderbergh Betsy Brantley (The Princess Bride) is both touchingly sweet and quick with mordant humor as Caine's long-suffering police coroner girlfriend, while Matthias Hues makes for a suitably imposing and fierce villain who sells his relentless character with action and body language as he only gets two lines of dialogue in the entire movie. The supporting cast is rounded out by the likes of Sherman Howard (Day of the Dead) as the leader of the yuppie scum drug dealers, Michael J. Pollard (House of 1000 Corpses) in one scene as Caine's squirrelly informant, and Mark Lowenthal as a high-strung, paranoid scientist friend of Caine's who certainly enjoys a good strong cup of coffee or ten.

 

I Come to Peace has plenty of cool action sequences featuring shit getting blown up good by the truckload, bloody gunshots, a destructive climatic car chase, an alien weapon that shoots throat-slicing discs, and a final battle that ends on a literally explosive note (with a perfect fuck off one-liner as a capper). That's exactly what we expect to find when we see movies like this, and the fact that I Come in Peace delivers on its patently absurd promises with terrific energy and skill makes it stand head and shoulders above the majority of B-action flicks being made today. They literally don't make them like this anymore.

 

Audio/Video: 4/5

 

The Blu-ray case may bear the title Dark Angel, but the HD print prepared by current rights holder MGM sports the better-known original theatrical release title I Come in Peace. Remastered in 1080p and presented by Shout! Factory - through their consistently amazing Scream Factory imprint - in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78: 1 that is compressed from the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, Dark Angel doesn't look fantastic but this transfer is good enough to put to shame many years of worn-out VHS tapes. MGM had previously issued the movie on a DVD that was only available online as a DVD-R on demand title. I can't attest to the quality of that disc, but I can however say that Shout's Blu-ray looks very clean and removes much unnecessary and print damage so that Mark Irwin's vivid, neon-drenched cinematography shines and sparkles probably for the first time since the movie briefly played theaters.

 

Our audio options are English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Most of the time I couldn't detect any apparent divergences in the twin tracks, though the volume level for the music and effects mixes rises noticeably on the 2.0 track. Audio distortion is minimal though detectable in certain dialogue-heavy scenes and the action sequences with heavy gunfire, hand-to-hand combat, and explosions will rattle your speakers. English subtitles are included.

 

Extras: 3/5

 

The brand new retrospective documentary "A Look Back at Dark Angel" (24 minutes) documents the making of the film through interviews with Baxley, Lundgren, and Benben. We get interesting stories about how the movie was originally budgeted at $20-25 million but was reduced before the start of shooting to around $7 million and how Baxley's expertise as a stunt man and the presence of several members of his stunt performer family ensured that the budget would be stretched to its breaking point and that the stunts would look real and keep the cast and crew protected from harm. The script with co-written by future Jurassic Park/Spider-Man scribe David Koepp under the pseudonym Leonard Maas Jr.

 

Not listed on the packaging is a still gallery featuring production photos and domestic and foreign lobby cards and poster art. The original international theatrical trailer with the Dark Angel title closes out the extras.

 

Overall: 4/5

 

Like the magical endorphin high Hues' glassy-eyed thug from beyond the stars would rape the universe on a pinball machine for, I Come in Peace is perfectly mindless entertainment that just wants to give its willing audience the rush they so desperately crave. It would make for a great double feature paired up with The Hidden. Shout! Factory has rescued another genre obscurity from video limbo and given it an updated digital polish with a few choice extra features. Recommended with an appreciative yet silly grin.