The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Dark Angel
Dark Angel - On Blu-Ray August 27

I recently opened up a package containing a couple of Blu-Ray review copies. One of them I didn't recognize. Dark Angel had Dolph Lundgren on the cover, brandishing a large gun, while a white-haired creature lurked behind him. Curious as to what it was, I began reading the plot synopsis on the back of the box. It turned out I'd already seen the film about 23 years ago, under the title I Come in Peace. (A little research revealed that there were already a couple other movies with the title Dark Angel, so the company releasing it changed the name for the American run.) Back in 1990, I wasn't terribly impressed, no matter what it was called. Watching it again now, I can't claim the movie has improved any, but it most certainly benefits from nostalgia value. The film is a time capsule of what low-budget sci-fi/horror fare was like in the late '80s/early '90s.

Lundgren stars as detective Jack Caine, who stumbles upon a supernatural case. A hulking alien has come to Earth to extract endorphins from human beings. On his planet, they're drugs. Another alien – this one a kind of extraterrestrial DEA agent – has chased him here. Caine and his uptight FBI partner, Smith (Brian Benben), try to stop the bad alien before he can kill too many innocent people. To do this, they must avoid his razor-sharp flying discs and his crushing strength.

Dark Angel has a few things working in its favor. The concept of the human anatomy containing a substance alien beings can get high from is cool, as is the way the creature wields his deadly discs. There's nothing overly fancy about the visuals (it's just a CD spinning in front of a moving camera) but it works; this is easily the thing most people remember about the movie. (Well, that and the famous final line Caine utters to the alien, which I won't print here for the sake of those who have never seen the film.) The interplay between the stoic, serious Lundgren and the jittery Benben is amusing as well. The two trade barbs throughout, making a pleasantly unlikely duo.

Where the film stumbles – badly – is in the way the plot is executed. Considering the story isn't that complicated, Dark Angel really shouldn't be as muddled as it is. An unnecessary love story is thrown in, as are a bunch of irrelevant supporting characters who detract from the main narrative. And the plot holes? They're too numerous to mention. It must be difficult bringing investigative logic to an interplanetary police procedural, I admit, yet the script often feels like it's jumping haphazardly from one thing to the next. The smooth flow that the best sci-fi and action flicks have is distinctly missing here.

The difference is that, in 1990, I hated Dark Angel (or, more accurately, I Come in Peace). Watching it in 2013 was a slightly different experience, however. Everything about the movie, from the cinematography, to the special effects, to the musical score, to the style of the action sequences, is so quintessentially of that era that it almost seems charmingly quaint compared to what we often get today. The movie isn't exactly “so bad it's good,” but it is old enough to be an interesting throwback.

Of course, my viewing experience was enhanced by the way I watched it. Here's the great thing about Scream Factory Blu-Rays: it doesn't matter if the movie itself is great, terrible, or something in between. The quality of their bonus materials is so high that watching the main feature and then delving into the supplements provides a sufficient amount of fun. Dark Angel has a lengthy retrospective documentary featuring director Craig R. Baxley, Dolph Lundgren, and Brian Benben, all of whom seem fairly proud of the movie. Baxley talks about having such a low budget that he needed to minimize stunt work as much as possible. This meant having the actors do a lot of it themselves. (Benben remembers being terrified as explosions went off around him.) Baxley also talks about trying to make the film look more expensive than it actually was. Perhaps the most fascinating tidbit is that Dark Angel screenwriter Leonard Maas, Jr. is actually a pseudonym for David Koepp, the noted writer of Carlito's Way, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, and Panic Room. This is a really enjoyable look back at the film that shows it was made with great enthusiasm. The original theatrical trailer is also included.

For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Dark Angel is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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