Dolph Lundgren - Detective Jack Caine
Brian Benben - Special Agent Arwood “Larry” Smith
Betsy Brantley - Diane Pallone
Matthias Hues - Tales
Jay Bilas - Azeck
Sherman Howard - Victor Manning
Sam Anderson - Warren
David Ackroyd - Inspector Switzer
Genre - Action/Horror/Science Fiction/Crime/Aliens
Running Time - 91 Minutes
Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a Houston vice cop who’s forgotten the rule book. His self-appointed mission is to stop the drugs trade and the number one supplier Victor Manning (Sherman Howard). Whilst involved in an undercover operation to entrap Victor Manning, his partner gets killed, and a sinister newcomer (Matthias Hues) enters the scene…
DARK ANGEL - or as I’ll call it for the rest of the review since it’s the better title, I COME IN PEACE - is a film I first watched during the early 1990s when video stores were still all the rage, getting my mom to rent it because I was a Dolph Lundgren fan and thought the cover was cool. I honestly only remembered certain elements of the film, but I do remember having enjoyed it for what it was. The film never crossed my mind again until several years ago when a blu-ray was finally released for the cult film, giving me the urge to check it out again through adult eyes. Even though it’s not technically a true horror film, it’s a cult favorite with an alien killer - so obviously I wanted to review it.
The issue is that I was saving the post-Thanksgiving portion of 2020 for Christmas horror flicks since I haven’t really focused on these type of films since the Midnight Confessions Podcast ended 3 years ago. Ironically, I COME IN PEACE takes place during Christmas, technically making this film perfect for what I had planned. And I’m glad it sort of fits too, since I COME IN PEACE is a lot of fun and deserves more attention for those who have been meaning to rewatch it or have yet to seen it.
I COME IN PEACE straddles a lot of genre lines, making it accessible to almost every audience member. Foremost, it’s a late-80s/early-90s action film that follows the tropes perfectly to satisfy action fans. The film is also sci-fi/horror with the appearance of two aliens killing humans or trying to hurt each other. There’s also a crime element involving mobsters who are also drug traffickers. And then we have the buddy-cop element between the rough-around-the-edges and anti-authorial Jack Caine and his new FBI partner Arwood “Larry” Smith, who is a stickler for the rules. This dynamic creates a comedic element as well. I COME IN PEACE should fall apart due to all this genre-bending, but the film manages to balance it all pretty well, never failing to maintain its entertainment value for 90 minutes.
While the screenplay [written by Jonathan Tydor but rewritten by an uncredited David Koepp] won’t win any Academy Awards or anything, it provides enough B-movie elements for the unique premise to work better than it ought to. I mean, how many films can you name are based around a space alien who stocks up on human endorphins by injecting them with narcotics with a spear, hoping to use the endorphins as a weapon to conquer worlds? And the fact that the alien’s true mission remains a mystery for much of the film, rather than just giving it right away, is some good writing because it makes us invested in what this stranger is really doing to these humans. It also creates some tense moments and good action sequences as the alien hunts people down to achieve his goal.
And while the film isn’t heavy on character development - which is totally fine for a film like this - the two main characters bring a lot of personality out of each other even on paper. Jack Caine and Agent Smith [I see you, MATRIX creators] are archetypes to the nth degree, never steering away from what you would expect. Caine is the cool cop, only playing by his own roles and solving cases outside the law. He gets all the girls. He can kick everyone’s ass. And his street edge helps him see things for what they are. This is the complete opposite for Smith, who carries an FBI Handbook at all times to make sure he’s always following the right procedure during his investigations. Instead of following his instincts, he would rather please his superiors hoping it’ll help him climb the proverbial ladder and get noticed for being a good soldier. It’s a buddy-cop trope that has been done to death before and since, which is fine because it’s a dynamic that’s hard to screw up. I actually like it being used in I COME IN PEACE because it grounds a film otherwise known for one alien using drugs to kill people for their endorphins, while another alien is a bounty hunter trying to kill and capture the other alien. It leads to predictable results, sure, but it’s a fun ride getting there because the characters are actually written well and portrayed even better by the actors playing them.
Speaking of the aliens, the evil Tales is menacing and almost Terminator-like, not stopping until he’s completed his mission and destroying anyone or anything in his way. Sure, he looks like a Christopher Lambert stand-in for 1995’s MORTAL KOMBAT, but there seems to be a lot about him that’s either subtly revealed or kept a mystery for a sequel that never happened. He’s a formidable villain. The good alien, Azeck, doesn’t do a whole lot unfortunately but shoot at Tales and explain to the main characters what the real deal is in the form of long exposition. But he makes for a nice distraction and builds on the fact that Tales is so dangerous that he needs to be taken out.
If there’s anything that’s lacking in the script, it has to do with a few of the characters. Diane, pretty much the lone female in the film and Caine’s love interest, is nothing more than an archetype that doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Diane comes across as a knowledgable coroner who seems independent at first. But she’s written as a woman who gives in to Caine so easily, that you wonder if she even had a spine to begin with. She comes across as clingy and gullible, as the romantic subplot isn’t all that strong to begin with.
The other issue is the inclusion of the “White Boys”, which is the name of the drug trafficking gang that Caine and Smith also have to deal with. Not only is their name a problem for politically correct 2020, but they feel like third-rate villains that are only around as a plot device to give the main characters a purpose. It also doesn’t help that they’re written like cartoon characters, which takes away any sort of tension or danger these goons should be having. Honestly, they could have gone away after the set up for the aliens and the film wouldn’t have been all that different.
I also wish the film played more with the Christmastime atmosphere. The holiday is sort of in the background but it’s never really brought up or used much at all for the story. In fact, I COME IN PEACE could have taken place during any other time of the year and nothing would be different. Usually when a film has its story take place during the holidays, it’s at least given a bit of a spotlight to set up a mood or atmosphere. But it never happens here and it’s a shame since it could have added another element to the narrative.
I COME IN PEACE is directed by Craig R Baxley - the man behind 1988’s ACTION JACKSON and 1991’s STONE COLD - two action cult classics still beloved today. Baxley, a former stunt coordinator, obviously knows how action should be handled and how it should look on film. And even though this film isn’t the biggest budgeted action extravaganza ever made, Baxley takes what he’s given and creates as much mayhem as possible to satisfy his audience. This film is never boring because so much is happening visually, despite its standard 80s action presentation. You want explosions? You’ll get a bunch of them. Gunfire? A whole lot of it. People getting speared? Car chases? A compact disc flying around like a frisbee slashing people’s throats? It’s all here. Hell, we even get Dolph Lundgren performing some sweet kicks in the final act. I COME IN PEACE isn’t a flashy movie but it’ll get your action adrenaline pumping.
The acting is also pretty damn good, considering what kind of film this is. The acting could have been amateurish and I think audiences still would have had fun with I COME WITH PEACE. But we have some fine actors in this film that elevate the material. Dolph Lundgren is pretty much still at his peak here, capturing the swag and cool factor as he portrays the breaking-all-the-rules cop Jack Caine. Lundgren also gets some great one-liners that he had fun reciting, no doubt. Brian Benben, best known for starring on HBO’s Dream On, did well matching up against Lundgren as Agent Arwood “Larry” Smith. While Lundgren played it cool and suave, Benben played the opposite as the uptight FBI agent who follows all the rules and clashed with Caine. Lundgren and Benben had a nice yin-and-yang chemistry that worked well throughout the film. Betsy Brantley didn’t have much of a juicy role that she probably deserved. But considering what she was given to do, Brantley handled it well and had cute chemistry with Lundgren. Matthias Hues almost steals the film at times as Tales, the evil alien. He has a presence about him, especially with his white hair look, and even made the words “I come in peace” menacing. We also get Sherman Howard, DAY OF THE DEAD’s Bub the Zombie, as the leader of the White Boys, although I wish he was given more to do. But it was nice seeing him!
And I really enjoyed Jan Hammer’s [Mr. Miami Vice himself] score. It’s dated as hell, but it captured the mood of the film so well and boosted action scenes. As for the hair metal songs, I really liked those as well. I’m a hair metal guy, so the music in the film is right up my alley.
THE FINAL HOWL
I COME IN PEACE/DARK ANGEL is a fun cult sci-fi/action movie that still holds up pretty well after 30 years. Thanks to some script revisions by David Keopp, we get an entertaining buddy-cop flick that’s more focused on alien drug dealers and human goons causing trouble for the heroes rather than any sort of major character development - which is perfectly fine for a B-movie like this. Despite some important characters not getting much to do, as well as the film not really exploring the Christmas holiday it takes place in, the pretty typical presentation is highlighted by cool action sequences and cool explosions thankfully done with practical effects. Craig R Baxley uses his stunt coordination knowledge to visualize a fast moving and well choreographed movie that remains timeless. The actors - mainly Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, and Matthias Hues - seem to be enjoying themselves and create a fun dynamic that gets better as the film goes. And with a cool Jan Hammer score and cheesy hair metal on the soundtrack, I COME IN PEACE/DARK ANGEL is definitely worth getting your endorphins stolen over.