Take Highlander and mix in elements from any sort of slasher film you want, throw in a few scenes of detective work in which we've got a ‘by the book' guy and a ‘follow my instinct' guy at odds with one another and you've more or less got I Come In Peace, or as it's been titled this time around by Shout! Factory and by MGM before that, Dark Angel. Directed by Craig R. Baxley, who worked as a second unit director for such luminaries as Walter Hill and Don Siegel and who brought us such gems as Action Jackson and Stone Cold (long live The Boz!), it's about as brainless as an action movie can get but you can't help but have fun with it.
This time around, Dolph Lundgren plays a Houston vice cap named Jack Caine. He's the type of guy who gets things done without worrying too much about the rules. When he's on a stakeout and winds up stumbling into a crime scene where a whole bunch of the ‘White Boys' gang members have been killed by a undetermined weapon, his superiors team him up with a Federal Agent named Arwood Smith (Brian Benben). From here, the pair tries to figure out who or what killed those hoods, with some help from Caine's girlfriend, a doctor named Diane Pollone (Betsy Brantley).
As it turns out, the bad guys were killed by a giant space alien (Matthias Hues) with a mullet and white eyes who mumbles ‘I come in peace' to people before he shoots them up with heroin and then drains them of their endorphins. See, he's a space dealer, really. He's also got really neat flying discs that will chase you and cut you once he launches them your way. Science! On his home planet, human endorphins are used to get high so in order to create that endorphin rush in his victims, he shoots'em up full of smack, which explains why he crashed the White Boys' party and made off with the dope. What Jack and Smith don't realize is that he's in turn being followed by a cop from his own home planet (Jay Bilas), but when the bad guy offs the good guy and Smith winds up with the dead good guy's space gun, it's going to be up to he and Caine to save the day.
Performance wise, this is probably exactly what you'd expect. Lundgren shows some seriously limited range here but he's fun in the lead role, making wise ass comments to Smith at every opportunity but surprising us with his love of art and fine wine, an interesting contrast to his penchant for going to titty bars to think. He's certainly a complex character, this Jack Caine, and if Lundgren doesn't necessarily carve out a place in the history books with his performance here, well, he gets to beat people up and shoot people and drive fast. He is good at these things so we accept him at face value. Brian Benben, which is fun to say a few times in a row as fast as you can, plays the weaselish FBI agent well enough that he makes an interesting foil to Lundgren's tough guy persona. Of course the conflict that exists between the two main players is as much a part of the movie as the conflict that exists with the drug dealer from outer space, making this atypical idea a fairly typical buddy cop movie, but again, lots of stuff blows up, there are some boobs on display, and there's lots of punching and kicking. Look for the instantly recognizable and always weird Michael J. Pollard in a small role as an informant named Boner. That's got to count for something too.
Baxley keeps the action moving and the film never overstays its welcome, coming in just under half an hour in length, which proves to be just right. The movie hasn't aged well on any level at all, really, but that's where the half the fun of a film like this comes from. Big, dumb and violent, Dark Angel is pretty much a perfect popcorn movie and there's nothing wrong with that. It gives you pretty much everything you'd want it to and it's the very definition of big dumb fun.
Dark Angel debuts on Blu-ray framed at a 1.78.1 widescreen aspect ratio in a really nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. There's the odd speck here and there but overall the picture s quite clean and shows very nice color reproduction. The oranges that show up in the scene with the fire are bright and bold without looking artificially boosted or bleeding all over the place. Black levels are nice and strong and while the image does look like the product of its time that it is, there's nothing wrong with that. Detail consistently surpasses what standard definition ever offered (think back to the MGM MOD release) as does texture. You'll notice this not only in the close up shots of the cast throughout the movie but throughout the background as well. A good example of this is the scene early in the film where the robbery takes place and you can note dirt and grit on some of the products in the store that could use a good dusting. There are no obvious problems with compression artifacts nor is there any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, this is a nice, solid transfer that feels very true to the source material.
DTS-HD Master Audio options are provided in English in your choice of 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles offered up in English only. Both tracks sound pretty nice, offering clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. The 5.1 mix predictably makes the action scenes a bit more fun by using the rear channels for some of the sound effects and to spread out bits and pieces of the score as well, but the dialogue doesn't sound quite as strong and there are some spots where it feels a little thin. The 2.0 mix is probably closer to what the movie would have sounded like theatrically and it seems to have slightly stronger dialogue and maybe a bit more punch behind it. Either way, both tracks offer decent depth and are free of any hiss or distortion. Both tracks sound pretty decent. Optional English closed captioning is provided.
The main extra on the disc is a featurettes entitled A Look Back At Dark Angel which is made up of interviews with director Craig R. Baxley and actors Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben. Clocking in at twenty-four minutes this is a decent look back and what happened with this movie. Baxley notes that the budget for the movie was supposed to originally be about twenty-five million and how the studio chopped it down to five million but insisted on more action in the film. He discusses some of the challenges that arose in the picture, most of which were budget related, while Dolph talks about what happens when some of your co-stars miss your mark during an action scene (spoiler: you get clocked in the head by Dolph and it hurts). Dolph discusses the comedic elements of the movie and Benben talks about how his character was basically a movie cliché but notes but Dolph talks about how he brought the ‘everyman' to the movie that helped to complete the combo. We also learn that Brian had to wera four inch lifts in his shoes so that he didn't look so tiny when standing next to Dolph. There's a lot more to it as well, and ultimately, this is a really nice retrospective look back at the making of the movie courtesy of three of the principal participants.
Aside from that, we get the great theatrical trailer for the movie, a poster and still gallery (not advertised on the packaging but definitely on the disc), menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition. You also get some keen reversible cover art so if, like some of us, you'll always call this one I Come In Peace you can flip the cover around and satiate your OCD a bit.
Dark Angel might not be a masterpiece but it is a fun mix of sci-fi, action and horror spearheaded by Dolph's loveable lunkhead persona and some pretty decent action scenes. It's definitely dated and it may not have aged so well but the entertainment value is still there. If you can't have fun with this one, you probably have no soul. Scream Factory's Blu-ray release is a very nice upgrade from the previous MGM ‘burn on demand' DVD-R release. The transfer is considerably improved as is the audio and the inclusion of the featurette helps to document the history of the movie and proves to be a pretty interesting watch in its own right. If you're an action movie fan or a disciple of Dolph? Oh yeah, this one comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.