Dark Angel (1990) Review
Dark Angel (AKA I Come in Peace) was directed by Craig R. Baxley (Sniper 2, Action Jackson), written by Jonathan Tydor (Horses and Champions, The King’s Guard) and David Koepp (Ghost Town, Kimi), and stars Dolph Lundgren (Section 8, Operation Seawolf), Brian Benben (Dream On, Imposters), Matthias Hues (Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Terror on the Prairie), Jay Bilas (With a Kiss, Home of the Giants), Sam Anderson (Perfect Strangers, Echoes of Violence), and Betsy Brantley (Deep Impact, Second Noah). It’s about a cop and an FBI agent who have to stop a new, otherworldly target during their current efforts to bring down a drug ring.
The Plot: New ideas are often downstream of old creations. For many films, these amalgams feel like just that, but with a host of inspirations, subplots, and conventions, Tydor and Koepp come out with something separate from their brethren.
City streets are bad enough but the circulation of drugs by the White Boys, a crime syndicate run by Warren (Anderson), is only making them worse. The cops nearly had the crooks in a bust, but with identities slipping through the cracks and a robbery distracting Detective Caine (Lundgren), the case isn’t closing anytime soon. Dark Angel frontloads its components in a surprisingly neat manner, showing off a third party in Talec (Hues) arriving on the scene and picking up the scraps of the bust and some disbelief in the situation by Caine with ease and speed.
With a theory linking back to the initial theft of the drugs, the FBI assigns Caine a new partner in Smith (Benben) and tasks them with finding out who – or in this case, what – is entering the picture. Baxley splits the film into two major subplots, one involving the cops’ investigations of the dealers and the stealers, which sometimes includes their personal matters like Diane’s (Brantley) connection to the case and to Caine.
And the other to Talec, who’s dealing with another flatfoot in the form of Azeck (Bilas). These threads run parallel for some time, possibly too long, but are woven into each other well by the third act, which reveals the use Talec has for the drugs and ensues with a bust.
Quite a few interesting and creative “what ifs” keep Dark Angel’s plot engaging even when it slides into familiar territory, and the balancing of the subplots keeps answers just out of reach to good effect, even though there are some forgotten pieces by the end.
The Characters: Part of the effort to keep the film approachable to the mainstream lies in relatively generic characters. While the supporting humans aren’t much more than requirements, the writers did at least bother to flesh out the main ones to a degree.
Caine is almost a typical film cop, but the script doesn’t make him out to be quite that archetype. His strained relationship with Diane is at this point due to his incessant drive to take down the White Boys, but he’s able to break focus when absolutely necessary. Of course, this problem is somewhat remedied by Dark Angel’s end, with the detective back on track, but it’s decently executed and believable enough. It’s also made evident why he got to his rank, as he’s a great crime scene investigator who can think both instinctively and rationally.
Again, Smith could’ve just been a generic FBI agent, but the movie once again goes the extra distance to give him an arc. He’s a good agent that sticks to technique and tries to distance himself from any connection to his cases beyond solving them to allow for the clearest perspective. It works to a degree, but his arc is one of expanding horizons in which he stops taking pages from his superior’s book and begins to think like Caine – and by proxy, the interlopers. Naturally, he loosens up from his uptight demeanour, but like Caine, it’s an organic transition since some friction is involved.
Talec and Azeck aren’t characterized by normal means, which works to preserve the mystery of who or what they really are. It’s clear from the shared milky white eyes, towering stature, and physical capabilities that they’re of the same breed, but with one targeting the other, a bit of worldbuilding begins to take shape. Obviously, there’s not much to them on an emotional or dramatic level, but the eventual explanation alleviates this need. Not needing much is a throughline for these characters, but they’re engaging, believable, and just plain cool.
The Crime: Still a hybrid of genres with its bombastic action and borderline horror sequences, Dark Angel still firmly resides in the crime category with a good procedural playing out from multiple angles.
Humans come first, always. Caine and Smith’s detective work utilizes some universal techniques but with new discussions. The two argue over how the victims may have reacted, what the motivations of the attackers were, and the design of the weapons used; all of which are figured out without too much reliance on coincidence or contrivance, barring one instance. Thankfully there’s a bit of attention paid to the White Boys, who receive their own magnifying glass to be put under and some chances to retaliate to keep things interesting. The cop and the agent are fully supplied with crooks to catch and things to find.
On the other end are the perps. Talec’s theft of heroin is well illustrated with a unique (but cheesy) weapon that resembles a CD, and the seemingly random killings committed with said heroin invite audience interaction. It’s Azeck’s own tracking endeavours that fall a bit short. We only see this play out in short bursts, and Dark Angel relies on a clunky method of keying in the audience and the men on the case to what’s really happening with Talec. In another generic choice, Caine gets thrown off the case, but the reason is a bit better than a captain’s disdain.
Far from perfect, the crime elements of the film host a bevy of commonplace scenes like the angry captain, an off-the-books investigation, and time with the coroner, but Tydor and Koepp were at least able to flip these on their head to make them interesting again.
The Technics: With a background in stunts and a bit of directorial experience behind him, Baxley brought together a largely competent but rough around-the-edges final product with a balance of stakes and humour.
Stylistically, Dark Angel has a good grasp of when to dig a bit deeper into its sci-fi facets and when not to. Scientific examination never turns into technobabble and the film doesn’t go too long without including some zany gizmo whose use is unknown to the audience for extended periods of time. Cinematographer Mark Irwin (New Nightmare, Passenger 57) wisely abstains from trying to create a different series of visuals when Dark Angel benefits from its one wacky element being its identifying feature. Some flashes of directorial flair would’ve been appreciated though.
Even though it had a budget on the lower end of a medium level, the film punches above its weight with its action scenes thanks to stunt coordinator Paul Baxley (The Dukes of Hazzard, Hell Below Zero) – the father of the director – and because of some stark creative choices made for the interlopers. There are plenty of explosions and a few chases and fights; all staged very well. Also staged well is the time between jokes. The writers knew what they were making was far-fetched and included some comic moments, mostly for Benben, whose dry readings keep them from being too meta.
Assembled out of spare parts and genre tropes, Dark Angel somehow becomes something at least moderately original and highly entertaining even when it gets messy with its script.