Sunday, March 24, 2013

"I" is for I Come in Peace

 Most people (the Cap'n included) mostly remember I Come in Peace from the trailer, which was seemingly attached to every movie and videotape I ever watched from 1990-1993.  When I mentioned it to friends who were coming over to watch it, almost all of them responded to the title by saying "you go in pieces." One of them hadn't even seen the movie, but that's how ubiquitous the trailer is in the 90s action zeitgeist. I'm pretty sure I had seen I Come in Peace at some point during high school, but I didn't remember much of it, and certainly not as well as I did Universal Soldier, the movie Dolph Lundgren made two years later*.

 In the rest of the world the movie is called Dark Angel, but I've only ever known it as I Come in Peace which is a much better title, if you ask me. Since I'm writing this we can safely assume you're not going to get a dissenting opinion in the body of the review, so I Come in Peace it is.

 For reasons that aren't very clear, I Come in Peace is set during Christmas, which gives me one more movie to show during DecemberFest. There's some rich jerk driving around with a cd player in his car (that's how you know he's rich, because this is 1989-1990 depending on when they filmed it) but some disturbance causes him to crash at a Christmas tree dealership. Fortunately for the guy, the disturbance is not Detective Riggs; unfortunately for him it is Matthias Hues (Talons of the Eagle), a giant blonde alien with glaucoma who can only say 'I Come in Peace," which he demonstrates by killing the dude with a wrist gun that shoots killer cds.

 Meanwhile, some crooks have infiltrated the police station and are stealing heroin from the evidence locker, but since they kill a cop played by the poor man's Steve Guttenberg and steal his name tag, it raises suspicions. The good news for them is at one of them is crazy enough to leave a bag explosives so powerful that it presumably kills everybody in the precinct station. They take the heroin and head off to the rendezvous point, a club called Jockos.

Meanwhile meanwhile,  Dolph Lundgren plays Detective Jack Caine, who is doing some surveillance outside of Jockos for the Houston police department when his partner is killed during a sting operation. He probably could have helped him, but Caine had to get out of his car to thwart a robbery across the street at a convenience store. Therefore his partner is murdered and then most of the bad guys are killed. It would be safe to guess that his superiors wouldn't be happy about this - they aren't - but I had also foolishly assumed his superiors were killed with every other cop in the station when the bomb went off. For some reason that never comes up during the investigation or during the film at all.

 Well, the other thing that Caine missed was that the bad guys are massacred by our boy Matthias (IMDB has his character name listed as "Talec" but I never heard that) and his flying cd weapon, but only so he could steal their heroin. In what sounds like the least cost-efficient plan I can think of, Matthias came all the way to Earth to pump people full of heroin, thus boosting their endorphins so that he could extract it for an alien drug. It takes him two briefcases full of heroin to collect five vials of endorphins, so I'm really not sure he's the brightest drug dealer in the universe. Also he's being chased by Jay Bilas (Sportscenter) who is a bounty hunter / space cop or something. He shaves a bald sport into his forehead so he kind of looks like he has a skullet, which doesn't help him blend in with normal Earthlings.

 Both aliens have a gun that causes things to explode (in any of their five available settings), which you think would draw attention, but in Houston nobody looks twice when you pull out a gun in a strip club or walk out of your apartment complex holding a shotgun. That, and literally everything explodes in this movie when it's shot, no matter what gun you're using.

 Lundgren must have been working really hard with a diction coach for I Come in Peace, because this is the most lucid I've ever heard his speaking voice in any Dolph movie I can think of. It's not that it's normally hard to understand him, but for some reason in this movie it's very easy to make out exactly what he's saying and his drawl seems to be at a minimum. Still, he's not dubbed - it's definitely Dolph talking - but I was taken aback a bit.

 I really like that none of the characters know this is a movie about aliens until halfway in. The audience knows, because director Craig R. Baxley (Stone Cold) keeps cutting away to Matthias so we can see how he extracts the drug (it involves injection tubes) from random victims, but neither the good guys nor the bad guys have any idea they aren't in a procedural crime movie. Det. Caine gets the third degree from his Sergeant and the FBI show up and force him to work with Special Agent Larry Smith (Dream On's Brian Benben) in tracking down the killer, and while they do find one of the spinning discs of death, nobody assumes "alien drug dealer" as primary suspect.

 So they make the rounds and talk to informants and sleazeballs like this guy Boner (character actor du jour Michael J. Pollard) and the crime lord who set up Caine's partner (played by the poor man's Robert Townsend) which leads them to a secondary drug deal with the henchman from Die Hard (Al Leong) and finally Caine meets the aliens. Suddenly he realizes what kind of movie he's in, which is good because while the cop movie we've been watching was also pretty good, it's WAY better when there's an alien drug dealer running around stabbing people and stealing brain chemicals.

 You may have noticed that I used the phrase "the poor man's" a bit in this review, and that's because I Come in Peace has two things that are almost as important as the main plot. One of them is the fact that this movie is littered with "that guy"s or actors who look like the more affordable version of other actors. There's a guy who looks like the weasel-y dude from Commando who Arnold promises to kill last (he lied) but is definitely not David Patrick Kelly. There's a cop who looks like he could have been Jonah Hill's dad, a guy who kind of looks like Carl Weathers, an so on. It becomes a fun game you can play while watching the movie, and between periods of "that guy!" you get to play the other game: spot the extra.

 I seriously want to give kudos to the person (or people) in charge of background casting for I Come in Peace, because they selected some of the finest extras you could hope for in a movie. Whether it's top notch moustaches, eye-catching costumes, or people finding absurd "business" to do on camera, I Come in Peace has a great selection of "what is that person doing?" going on in nearly every scene. There's even a misdirect outside of the other, non-destroyed police station where you think an extra dressed as a cop is waving to the camera, only to pan over and see he's just waving to a cop walking up to him.

 Now you may think that the fact I was fixated on background actors in some way means I didn't like I Come in Peace's main story, but that's where you are mistaken. For a movie that's roughly the poor man's Predator 2, I Come in Peace is a lot of fun with just the right balance of action movie cheese. I still don't get why you'd call this movie Dark Angel when I Come in Peace is a much more appropriate title (who would the "Dark Angel" be, anyway?) but that's a minor quibble. If the damn thing weren't so hard to find in the U.S., I'd recommend you all go watch it. Because you'll have a rollicking good time no matter where you focus your attention.

* If you were curious, he made The Punisher immediately before I Come in Peace, and there's a good reason I don't remember that one as well.

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