The Film: 3/5
On the planet Arturos (located "10,000 light years from Earth") criminals cower in fear at the name of Brick Bardo (Tim Thomerson), the toughest cop in the universe. He's not the most popular with his superiors - but then again, what good cop on the edge is? - but he gets the job done. Bardo's even willing to take his latest pursuit off-world when his archenemy Sprug (Frank Collison, the "hot dog" guy from M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening), whose refusal to die at the cop's hands has left him nothing but a severed head on a floating platform, flees Arturos. The chase takes them through a forbidden energy ring and both Sprug and Bardo eventually crash land on the planet Earth, where they have shrunk to a few inches in height. They've also landed in the crime-ridden Bronx borough of New York City where a gang war is currently being waged and the dreaded Braxton Red (Jackie Earle Haley) is winning. The local cops refuse to do anything to put a stop to Braxton's reign of terror in the streets and the only person brave enough to take a stand against the crime lord is single mother Debi Alejandro (Kamala Lopez). After Bardo saves her from being assaulted by several of Braxton's thugs Debi and her son Kevin (Humberto Ortiz) befriend the diminutive defender of the law. Meanwhile Sprug has survived his own landing and has forged an alliance with Braxton to help him repair his spaceship in exchange for giving the gang leader a weapon of immense destructive power.
Around the time Roger Corman departed his beloved exploitation studio New World Pictures as it was fast becoming a mini-major branching out into television and multimedia to open his latest film production venture Concorde-New Horizons, Charles Band's Empire Pictures was experiencing its own share of difficulties: the grindhouses were dead, the drive-ins were drying up and being converted to flea markets, and the home video market was expanding like Mr. Creosote's gut. By the end of the 1980's Empire had collapsed and Full Moon Pictures quite hurriedly rose from its ashes. Much like Corman and Concorde, Band had greater success with Full Moon as its energies were focused solely on producing lower-budgeted features for direct-to-video distribution that reaped generous profits. The company officially opened its doors in 1989 with the release of the first installment of their most successful franchise, Puppet Master, and two years later would unleash another film that would do very well for Full Moon in the long run.
Imagine an acid-drooling mutant hybrid of Gulliver's Travels (the Brobdingnag section) and Death Wish 3 and you might just be thinking of 1991's Dollman, a B-movie sci-fi/action yarn produced in the Full Moon house style but boasting a goofy, infectious energy all its own. Tim Thomerson, a stand-up comic during the 1970's and a go-to leading actor for Band since the Empire days, headlines in the title role as Brick Bardo and plays it with tongue planted firmly in leathery cheek. He makes the character cool and likable even when he's being a total dick for no apparent reason (in his introductory scene when a kid inquires about the awesomeness of his customized hand cannon Bardo retorts, "That's right, fat boy."). Thomerson brings a little of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry persona to his performance as Bardo, but if anything the miniature badass could be a spiritual second cousin to Jack Deth, the time-traveling cop he played in Empire/Full Moon's successful Trancers series. He doesn't bring anything exceptional to the action scenes because they require little more than properly aiming a gun big enough to give Hellboy hot flashes while looking like a stone cold professional. But what Thomerson brings to the party is a laconic, old school toughness that enables him to navigate the absurd proceedings and campy dialogue and keep his dignity intact. It was the actor's stock-in-trade and it served him well throughout the 80's and 90's.
Jackie Earle Haley was clearly in a career purgatory between his child stardom in the 70's and his Oscar-nominated resurrection with 2006's Little Children at the time he played the loathsome Braxton Red. He's a little over-the-top at times but his outsized performance meshes adequately with the material. But as his unlikely partner in crime from outer space, Frank Collison royally hams it up and conveys his character's vile and twisted nature while buried beneath some convincing latex make-up. Kamala Lopez (I Heart Huckabees) makes a fetching and sympathetic female lead and Humberto Ortiz scores a few laughs as her hyperactive, annoying brat of a son. Cult character actors like Nicholas Guest (The Long Riders), Judd Omen (Red Dawn), Frank Doubleday (Escape from New York), Vincent Klyn (Point Break), Luis Contreras (Repo Man), and Samantha Phillips (Phantasm II) pop up throughout the film in roles smaller than Bardo, often having barely enough time to be missed by blinking.
Dollman was directed by the extremely prolific Albert Pyun (The Sword and the Sorcerer, Nemesis) from a screenplay by Chris Roghair (Pseudonym? Guy doesn't have any other writing credits.). Pyun had made the loony sci-fi rock flick Vicious Lips for Empire Pictures previously and in the years since pumped out a few inexpensive genre features for the failing Cannon Films. Before Dollman came along Pyun's big screen adaptation of Marvel's Captain America was poised to launch him into the big time as a director, but the film's troubled, cash-strapped production and its lack of a theatrical release (it went straight to video in 1992) 86'd those intentions. A protege of the legendary Akira Kurosawa, Pyun was the kind of director made for companies like Cannon and Full Moon as he was known for working fast and cheap and had no pretensions about what he did for a living. This is one of the rare moments in Pyun's career where he was mostly able to keep the film from veering wildly between tones. Mostly. Without its vulgarity and gory violence Dollman would make an excellent oddball feature for kids, but the elements that push it into R-rated territory add to its gonzo charm. Pyun gives the story the crazed abandon of a Marvel Comics title created under the influence of hallucinogens, making Dollman a whacked-out children's film for thrill-hungry adult junk collectors and consumers who occupy the seedy college dorm rooms and high-end luxury apartments of the world. It was one of the first movies Pyun made with his future frequent cinematographer of choice George Mooradian and several members of the cast, including Klyn and Michael Halsey, would become charter members of the director's repertory company.
One thing about Full Moon's promotion of Dollman that bothers me: Oscar-winner Greg Cannom (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) is credited with the make-up effects and though he had previously worked on several films for both Charles Band and Albert Pyun I could not find Dollman anywhere on his resume. Cannom had lined up several gigs for Full Moon and some of the Hollywood majors at the time and it's possible that he just wasn't able to work on this film. But if that's the case, then why credit him at all on Dollman?
A movie like Dollman was never destined to reap the benefits of a first-rate HD restoration, but for what it's worth Full Moon's 1080p upgrade does the film great justice. Framed in the 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer is very clean and a definite improvement over previous VHS and DVD releases though it suffers from an excess of grain at certain times, mostly during effects sequences. The muted color scheme and burned-out Bronx locations look pretty good as well. The quality of this transfer makes the film look like it could have been made at least a decade later. The Blu-ray comes equipped with two separate English audio options, Dolby 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Dollman's sound was mixed in Ultra Stereo and both channels do a fine job of replicating the undemanding experience. Dialogue and music come through clear as a bell, laser blasts and explosions ring with terrific clarity, and audio distortion is quite minimal. There are no audible differences in the dual tracks when viewing the film on a standard television set-up. No subtitles have been provided.
An audio commentary with Pyun and Thomerson would have been terrific, but we don't get one unfortunately. The most recent supplement is an interview with Band and Thomerson from last July (6 minutes) that functions more as an extended advertisement for Full Moon's website and upcoming films. The vintage "Videozone" behind-the-scenes featurette (8 minutes) produced at the time of Dollman's original video release is included and gives us a broad overview of the production though it also contains some plot spoilers. It's pretty cool to have. Trailers for Dollman (with the RoboCop score!) and other Full Moon releases comprise the remaining bonuses, including the first five Trancers films, Puppet Masters 3 and X, Subspecies, Castle Freak, Reel Evil, Unlucky Charms, and Ooga Booga. A promo for Full Moon's Grindhouse Collection and a trailer for the long-shelved 1988 anthology feature Pulse Pounders (which has since been restored and one of its stories, an adaptation of Lovecraft's The Evil Clergyman, released on DVD) close out the extras. Band and a topless actress promote Full Moon's online streaming service (4 minutes) when the disc is first loaded, and we also get a brief additional ad for Full Moon Direct.
Dollman is fun B-movie schlock with a game lead performance from the underrated Tim Thomerson, crazy action and effects, and a daredevil sense of pacing. This cool little gem from the dawn of the direct-to-video action era looks and sounds excellent on this Blu-ray, but I would have preferred some contemporary extra features revolving around the film itself and not a bunch of promotional filler. That's Full Moon for you. The film alone rates this disc a hearty recommendation.