And You Call Yourself a AScientist!

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I COME IN PEACE
aka Dark Angel (1990)

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"Heroin stimulates the pituitary to make endorphins. Endorphins are a hormone that create an incredible sense of well-being – Nature’s ecstasy."
"So if you shot someone up and drilled a hole---"
"Theoretically, you’d have your hands on a nearly perfect drug."

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I Come in PeaceDirector: Craig R. Baxley

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas, Jim Haynie, David Ackroyd, Sherman Howard, Alex Morris

Screenplay: Jonathan Tydor and Leonard Maas Jr

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Synopsis: An in-car stereo system malfunctions, spitting a CD at the driver who, distracted, drives off the road and crashes. As he contemplates the damage, the man hears a sound like thunder. Something flies through the air and lands on the car, which explodes. A tall stranger (Matthias Hues) with long blond hair and opaque eyes rises from the fiery wreckage. Approaching the stunned witness, he says raspingly, "I come in peace…." Two men break into an evidence room in a Federal warehouse in Houston, murdering a police officer and stealing a huge cache of heroin. As they escape the building, they leave behind a bomb, which obliterates the warehouse and everyone in it…. Outside a nightclub, narcotics cop Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) listens in as his partner, Ray Turner (Alex Morris), carries out a sting operation on drug lord Victor Manning (Sherman Howard). Jack sees two men with guns entering a nearby liquor store. Torn, but reassured by the innocuous conversation he overhears that the sting is going as planned, Jack leaves his post to foil the robbery – just as Manning reveals that he is aware of Turner’s identity…. Manning leaves the nightclub, ordering his underlings, known as the White Boys, to "clean up the mess". Suddenly, the blond man appears, firing a strange weapon. A razor-sharp disc flies around the room, scoring the walls and slashing the throats of everyone present. One man tries to flee, but the stranger sends him crashing through a plate-glass window with a shot from a flamethrower-like gun. He then collects the heroin…. Jack comes running to find a scene of carnage – and his partner dead. Captain Malone (Jim Haynie) sympathises with Jack over Turner’s death, but berates him for disappearing for so many days and running the sting operation without clearance. He then orders him to take a vacation. A senior FBI agent, Switzer (David Ackroyd), who is investigating the destruction of the Federal warehouse, questions Jack. Jack insists that the drug dealers’ wounds could not have been caused by a knife. Switzer orders him back on the case, partnering him against his wishes with FBI Agent Smith (Brian Benben). The coroner (Betsy Brantley) – who is also Jack’s estranged girlfriend – tells Malone that she can’t explain the wounds on the victims’ throats. Jack tries to talk to Diane but she is furious over his recent disappearance and rejects him. Across town, something smashes through a building and a man (Jay Baylis) emerges from the rubble. Meanwhile, the blond stranger breaks into a bail bonds office. He knocks the owner to the ground and fires a whip-like spike into his chest, injecting him with a white liquid. As the man loses consciousness, the stranger drives a hollow blade into his forehead, extracting the fluid from within his brain….

Comments: If movie credits were forced to adhere to some kind of "truth in advertising" policy, then the screenplay credit for I Come In Peace would not merely read "Written by Jonathan Tydor and Leonard Maas Jr". Rather, it would say something like "Cobbled together by Jonathan Tydor and Leonard Maas Jr from bits and pieces swiped from about two dozen other, and on the whole better, films". I can’t, offhand, recall the last time I saw anything as derivative as this; and on that level, approached in the right frame of mind, I Come In Peace is a good deal of fun. In fact, it would make an excellent drinking game: if you knocked one back every time you encountered an action movie cliché, or a bit of business stolen from another movie, you’d be nicely toasted by about the two-thirds mark. Lessee: whaddawe got here?

  • Our hero is a Renegade Cop Who Plays By His Own Rules
  • Said hero’s partner is black
  • Said hero’s said black partner is killed off early in the film
  • Said hero is ordered off the case by his Captain for being "too close to it"
  • Said Captain’s orders take the form of making said hero promise to take a vacation since "you’re the only man I know who’d rather die than break a promise"
  • Said hero’s "suspension" lasts approximately sixty seconds, as he is conveniently ordered back on the case by the FBI
  • Said hero finds himself assigned a comically mismatched partner in the form of an uptight FBI agent
  • Although initially antagonistic, said hero and said uptight FBI agent finally learn to like and respect one another
  • Said uptight FBI agent learns that "instinct" is much more important than "training"; and that "following the rules" means that you are stupid, incompetent, or corrupt – or possibly all three at once

Oh – and just as the icing on the cake – or should that be as the gin in our martini?--- The film's title is taken from a line spoken by the bad guy just before he offs each victim. We never learn why he says it, or where he learned it, or what it’s supposed to mean – until the very end of the film, when it becomes painfully apparent that the line is nothing more than a set-up for a parting wisecrack from Our Hero; without which, of course, no movie like this would be complete. And now that I’ve told you that, if you can’t work out exactly what that wisecrack is, you ought to be drummed out of the Action Movie Watchers’ Union.

Hic!

Even as slasher movies take place in their very own universe, and are governed by their own rules of illogic, so too are action movies. In I Come In Peace, the city of Houston is under the thumb of drug lords Manning and Warren. Although they know exactly who these guys are, where they hang out, and who works for them, and despite the fact that their underlings tend to wander around the city carrying briefcases stuffed full of heroin, the Houston police are powerless to stop them. It takes a RCWPBHOR like Jack Caine to even try; and then it’s via an unauthorised sting operation – because obviously, no-one who wasn’t a RCWPBHOR could think of doing anything so unexpected and original. The point of this sting is not, naturally, to achieve anything positive, but merely to get Jack’s partner killed off as swiftly as possible; partly because, after all, he’s black, and partly because Victor Manning being an evil drug lord and murderer isn’t motivation enough for Jack: it has to be personal. To this end, a convenient liquor store robbery takes place near the nightclub where the sting operation is underway; and rather than, oh I don’t know, calling for some back-up (I guess a RCWPBHOR doesn’t do that sort of thing), Our Hero immediately abandons his post to take care of it – thus handing his partner’s sorry ass to the homicidal Manning. While we, the misinformed viewers, might be inclined to believe that Ray Turner’s death was Jack’s fault, no-one in the film utters so much as a breath of criticism (Jack’s captain chews him out for "disappearing for eight days", but for nothing else); nor indeed does Jack ever blame himself. Though removed from the case, Jack is ordered back on it almost instantaneously; and with his suit-wearing, crew-cutted, by-the-book new partner stumbling along in his wake, Our Hero is free to participate in gun battles and car chases (in which no innocent bystanders are ever injured, and everyone drives with their cars spaced just far enough apart to allow the pursuing vehicles to weave safely in and out); to obtain information by shoving his gun in people’s crotches; to withhold evidence, and destroy property; and finally to shoot dead a senior FBI agent – all without the slightest hint of any repercussions to follow. Ah, the life of a RCWPBHOR! – that’s the life for me!

By now I’m sure I’ve said more than enough to let you know whether you want to watch this film or not. I will only add that I Come In Peace adheres rigorously to the #1 Action Movie Rule: if you can’t think how to end a scene, blow something up. (And by the way – this may or may not have been the movie that inspired the Jabootu-ites to develop their theory of the Atomic Grenade©.)

While I Come In Peace does the job as a mindless action movie, as science fiction, it purely bites. From my synopsis above, you might have gotten the misguided idea that this is a story about aliens. Well, there are aliens in it; but as their generic billing of "Bad Alien" and "Good Alien" makes abundantly clear, they are no more than the film’s McGuffin. Good Alien gets especially short shrift: with his appalling hair-do, embarrassing wardrobe, and inability to shoot anything smaller than a warehouse, you’re left wondering, if this is the best man the aliens have, why aren’t the bad guys already running the universe? Then again, in Bad Alien, we would seem to have our answer. In the development – or rather, non-development of this character, I was forcibly put in mind of the dreadful Albert Pyun version of Captain America. Even as there the "superhero" and "supervillain" were dragged down to dull human level by the embarrassed film-makers, here Bad Alien is almost indistinguishable from his human equivalents: he deals drugs, he kills, he blows things up, he takes part in car chases--- There’s almost nothing about him that’s "alien", and still less that’s interesting. Even the scenes of him "harvesting" his victims are repetitively staged and tedious. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself why there are aliens in this film at all? – and the only answer that comes to mind is, because most of the other films it was ripping off had aliens in them. I Come In Peace is derived most obviously from The Hidden, Alien Nation, Predator 2 and The Terminator – and while it probably wasn’t intentional, I was rather amusingly reminded of The Brain From Planet Arous, too; although, while Good Alien is just as incompetent as Vol, Bad Alien isn’t anywhere near as much fun as Gor. Unfortunately, what Tydor and Maas chose to misappropriate from their "models" were not their science fiction elements, which might have made this a far most entertaining exercise, but only their action sequences. (And sometimes this misappropriation goes beyond the merely "obvious": when the seemingly unstoppable drug-dealing alien started pursuing Jack and Diane in a stolen police car, my chin hit the ground. [And at least the makers of Halloween had the grace to be uncomfortable about Michael’s mysterious ability to drive a car; Baxley & Co. don’t even bat an eyelid when Blondie jumps behind the wheel.])

Aside from the mis-use of its aliens, the most annoying thing about I Come In Peace is that somewhere in this mess, buried beneath all the sound and fury, the gunshots, the body count, and the endless explosions and wisecracks, there actually are a few interesting ideas. The notion of human beings being harvested for their endorphins has a certain nasty attraction; while all sorts of story potential lurked in the plot thread of human drug dealers suddenly finding themselves in competition with their intergalactic counterparts – and in their initial assumption that it was the police who were slaughtering them and hijacking their heroin. (The story would have been more interesting if Jack had been forced to team up with the criminals he’d started out pursuing.) By the end of the film, however, we’re left to conclude that whatever is at all original or intriguing in the screenplay must have got there by accident, rather than via an act of volition on the part of the writers. The only thing we’re forced to concede credit for is Bad Alien’s killer CD machine – which, kudos to Tydor and Maas, actually is pretty damn cool. And they even manage to find a not-too-outrageous explanation for how the thing works - although we never do learn how it manages to adjust itself to the throat height of its various victims. The one other moment in the film that stood out for me (although I’m not necessarily assuming that it’s "original" – anyone know?) is when Jack draws a swarm of his adversaries out of their headquarters by shoving their sports cars and setting off the alarms. As the yuppie drug-dealers pour out of the building in a panic to check on their penis substitutes, Jack simply strolls in past them, making it into the presence of the crime boss almost unhindered.

As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, I Come In Peace is not exactly what you might call a character-driven movie; and Jack Caine, fittingly enough, is nothing short of Cliché Made Flesh. Given the colour-by-numbers nature of their script, it’s hard to believe that the writers cared much about this; but the fact is that, although content to abandon their aliens to uni-dimensionalism, Tydor and Maas did take one, unintentionally amusing, stab at fleshing out Our Hero, with Agent Smith forced to revise his opinion of his reluctant partner when confronted by Jack’s tastefully decorated apartment, and his knowledge of wine and art. (As per usual, Jack lives in an enormous apartment he couldn’t possibly afford.) I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no-one to learn that Smith’s major function in this film is to be proven wrong every time he opens his mouth, and to be shown up by Jack at every opportunity. This gets very tiresome. Thankfully, by the closing stages of the film the writers back off a bit, and Smith gets the chance to prove that, when the chips are down, there’s better stuff in him than we might have supposed. Naturally, however, this does not occur until after (i) Smith has learned the joys of tossing away the rule-book and breaking the law; and (ii) Smith’s Bureau supervisor, on whom he has modelled himself, has turned out to be an Evil Guv’mint Sp00k involved in an Evil Guv’mint Conspiracy. (Of sorts – it’s never exactly clear just what the heck is going on with this particular plot thread.) And it is also after all of this that Smith is finally allowed to have another name ("It’s Larwood," he reveals reluctantly. "My friends call me Larry.") – which puts him one up on the film’s pseudo-heroine, Diane, who despite her professional standing is never granted the dignity of a surname. Nor does the script ever bother to clarify the exact nature of her relationship with Jack; she may be his girlfriend, or estranged wife, or even ex-wife – who can tell? Perhaps the reason for this murkiness is that there isn’t actually any reason for Diane to be in this film. Her professional observations could have come from anyone; she contributes nothing else of value; and although she and Jack spend the night together, any sex is kept off-screen. Yup, that’s right: a mindless action film with no boobs! Sorry. (Actually – upon reflection, I can think of a reason for Diane’s presence. Perhaps given Jack’s interest in interior decoration, wine and art, Tydor and Maas were worried that without a definite girlfriend, we might think Jack was a bit---you know….)

While I haven’t watched all that many of his films, I have to say that I Come In Peace contains the best performance from Dolph Lundgren that I’ve seen so far. (Hmm…. Dolph, old man, I think you’ve just been damned with faint praise….) Not that it’s brilliant, or anything, but it’s certainly competent, occasionally even good – particularly in view of the not-exactly-inspiring material that he had to work with. Brian Benben also struggles gamely with his role, but given that - almost by definition - he’s the film’s Odious Comedy Relief©, how the viewer reacts to his character is probably a question of individual tolerance. In fairness, though, considering the extent to which the "mismatched partners" trope has been flogged to death in action movies, both Lundgren and Benben are to be commended for at least trying to make their byplay seem fresh; and they do achieve a few good moments. (The line "You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs" gets an amusing work-out.) At any rate, the two men come off far better than Betsy Brantley, whose invincible cheerfulness is simply unbelievable, given both her profession and the treatment she receives from Jack. ("I like abuse as much as the next girl," she observes at one point, all too truthfully.) Among the supporting players, Mark Lowenthal gleefully overacts as the scientist who figures out how the killer CD works (he’s perpetually hepped up on drugs and/or caffeine, and brews coffee in his distillation equipment – a Mysterious Coloured Fluid of a different kind, I guess); while Michael J. Pollard makes a brief appearance as the unfortunately named "Boner", whose genitalia comes under threat from Jack’s Smith & Wesson. And as Bad Alien, we have, of course, Matthias Hues. Ah, Matthias Hues…. We have a strange history, Matthias and I. About a year ago, I went through this utterly freaky phase of being unable to watch a movie, or turn on the TV, without coming face to face with Matthias Hues. He seemed to be in everything. It got to the point where I simply couldn’t stand it any more, and bolted from the room shrieking at the very sight of him. (Nothing personal, Matthias.) Well, this strange phase ended as abruptly as it had begun; and I’d seen neither hide nor hair of him until the opening scenes of I Come In Peace, when whatever-it-was crashed and he climbed out of the fiery wreckage, and it all came flooding back…. (Ack! Acid flashback! Acid flashback! Or in this case, I guess – endorphin flashback!) Matthias is certainly no actor, but he is an intimidating presence; and as long as he doesn’t have to say anything besides "I come in peace", he’s adequate. On the other hand--- Jay Bilas made his screen debut as Good Alien. He also made his screen exit. One feels it was probably for the best….

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