Joshua Reviews Craig R. Baxley’s Dark Angel [Blu-ray Review]


When it comes to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, action films were coming seemingly daily, showing up in theaters about as often as a new batch of popcorn. And who was one of that era’s biggest stars? One Dolph Lundgren, and while many of his films were often mediocre-to-unwatchable, there were the occasional pieces that found him at the top of his shockingly charismatic game.

And one of the best, and most underrated, is finally arriving on Blu-ray in what is another Scream Factory release that proves them as arguably the most interesting name in genre home video releases.

Entitled Dark Angel, the film was originally released stateside as I Come In Peace, and introduces us to one of Lundgren’s most interesting characters. Ostensibly a standard tale of a renegade cop who, in playing by his own rules, starts to investigate a new series of drug related murders that have hit the streets of Houston, all while also having to deal with police politics, the death of a partner and the introduction of a new one. Oh, and I shan’t forget to mention that somehow aliens with an affinity for human endorphins find their way into the middle of the plot, turning this film into an imminently watchable mash-up of cop action film and science fiction romp, that is as entertaining as any big blockbuster we’ve seen in a very long time.

Not to sell this film too highly, it’s very much of its time. From the opening title cards to the final credits, the film holds within each and every frame a time capsule of a world that feels incredibly dated. Some of the effects work here is campy, and the soundtrack, particularly the source songs (especially the final one heard over the end credits) feels utterly standard for this time period, sans anything remarkable. That all said, there is a lot about this film that is actually, oddly enough, rather remarkable, starting with its lead.

While Lundgren, as anyone involved in the recent Expendables franchise has, has become a self-parody at this point (save for the shockingly great Universal Soldier sequel from last year), there is a reason why so many people flocked to his films at the very height of his career. Besides being a genuinely great looking heavy lead in big action pictures, there is a charisma to him that is utterly compelling. This film is a perfect example. Despite having a standard cop role for this type of picture, he is impossible to look away from, really selling the role of this renegade vice cop come up against aliens and the awesomely titled White Boys, a local gang that seems to have taken over the city. He’s perfectly paired up with the minute in comparison Brian Benben, a character actor best known for his TV work, who himself turns in a really fun performance as an FBI agent paired up with Lundgren’s Jack Caine. Toss in the likes of Betsy Brantley as the love interest and Matthias Hues and basketball stud-turned-alien-turned-ESPN-announcer Jay Bilas, and you have a film that is as compelling to watch character wise as it is action wise.

And speaking of this film’s action, it’s so deliciously of its time that it is something of a gem from this long gone era. Craig R. Baxley directed this film from a script written by the collective of Jonathan Tydor, Leonard Maas Jr., John Kamps and even David Koepp, and while the narrative is admittedly campy and trope mixing, the film is so engaging and in many sequences genuinely thrilling. Baxley’s action choreography is solid here, and it is a film from an era where geography during setpieces is as important as the explosions (of which there are many, and many large ones, here). The film’s final act, as is the case in many films of this type from this era, is itself one giant action setpiece, and it’s a spectacle. Peace is an inherently campy science fiction romp, and while the tropes of each genre involved here turns the narrative into something a bit campy, the mixture of the action direction and the shockingly charismatic performances turn this film into something really quite special.

Long forgotten (Scream Factory’s release was actually the first time this writer ever heard of the film), this Blu-ray is absolutely impeccable. The transfer here is remarkable given the source material, and the supplements (while admittedly light) are worthwhile. There are interviews with the director and two leads, a trailer, and even some amazing alternate artwork on the inside of the cover that you’ll see on store shelves. Overall, while the film won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, this is a genre film fan’s dream. Finally in as crisp an HD transfer as you’re bound to find for a film of this type from this era, this is a must own for anyone with a penchant for films with amped up explosions, cartoonish plotlines and some genuinely thrilling action beats. Color this writer a convert to the cult of Lundgren.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.