If I were to assemble a movie in the mold of a prototypical 80s action flick, what would I need? I would get a beefy star but not someone obvious like a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone. Someone like a Dolph Lundgren would be perfect for the slab of cheesy awesomeness that I'm thinking of. It would be a buddy cop movie (obviously) so I'd also need someone who could annoy Dolph while providing some comic relief. I'm also thinking of a score in the style of Jan Hammer's guitar spiked synth-iness (a boy can dream). It would also feature (in no particular order): explosions, car chases, aliens, explosions, sleeveless vests, gunplay, strippers wearing cowboy hats and explosions. What do you mean, it's already been done?
Dolph stars in Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace) as bad boy cop, Jack Caine. When his partner gets killed during an undercover drug bust (Dolph was busy dropping some convenience store punks at the time), he gets sucked into what will soon be an intergalactic affair. You see, some of the drug runners who killed Dolph's partner were in turn killed by a hulking alien (Matthias Hues) who wanted their stash of heroin. If you're wondering why an alien needs heroin, you've come to the right place. He plans on pumping unsuspecting victims full of the nasty stuff and extracting endorphins that their brains generate in the process. Those endorphins, of course, act as even more potent drugs for members of his alien race. He's an industrious one, this alien.
Since we can't have Dolph being a loose cannon, he gets saddled with an uptight FBI agent, Larry Smith (Brian Benben) who is his polar opposite. By that I mean the agent insists on following the rules while Dolph breaks every one he can...the agent wears suits while Dolph rocks his leather jacket (and those sleeveless vests)...the agent is a slimy sonofabitch while Dolph goes around making earnest promises that can't be broken (seriously). In typical buddy cop movie fashion, Dolph and Smith initially butt heads only to eventually arrive at a mutual understanding. Also thrown into this mix are Dolph's lady friend (Betsy Brantley) who is also the coroner and a good alien (Jay Bilas) who is hot on the trail of our brain-draining pal.
This film may technically have come out in 1990 but director Craig R. Baxley ensures that this is an entertaining 80s affair through and through. Despite a few flaws (which I'll get to), Baxley deserves credit for understanding the genre he's working in and largely delivering on expectations. For starters, Dolph is perfectly cast as the renegade cop. He's cocky, brash and emotes mostly with spin kicks to the face. This is easily one of his most relaxed performances and a welcome change from his usual portrayal as a cold killing machine. Benben is suitably snide as Dolph's counterpart. He lightens the mood by playing it straight with a sarcastic streak. Then there's Matthias Hues as the drug dealing alien. Hues looks like the blonde illegitimate offspring of the Highlander and the Terminator. The man is imposing enough that his defeat at the hands of Dolph doesn't feel like a foregone conclusion.
Baxley also has a firm handle on the film's carnage quotient. He stages a number of kills using varied and inventive techniques. When our alien isn't poking holes in his victim's skulls, he's slitting throats with flying, spinning blades. Baxley's background as a stunt coordinator also peeks through in the car chases (one through a mall) and whenever he's blowing shit up, which is quite often. After ticking so many genre checkboxes this may sound petty, but my major problem with the film lies in its pacing and focus. Despite having a cranium drilling alien on hand, the movie doesn't feature enough of him. Dolph spends too much time toying with the local gangs when he should be chasing Matthias. Due to choices like this, it sometimes feels like two different movies are fighting for your attention and the wrong one is winning. There are also a few occasions where the adherence to genre feels like a rummage through the spare parts bin. I don't mind the familiar but a little surprise goes a long way.