Monday, March 16, 2009

I Come in Peace (1990)

William Burroughs once said something along the lines that the only thing truly dangerous about illegal drugs is the tendency of prohibitionists to take big steaming dumps all over everyones civil rights in the mad quest to stop people from getting high. Sadly, the last few decades have offered no refutations of his adage. Stuck between the immovable object of our demand for mind altering substances and the unstoppable force of the War on Drugs, the only things that ever give are the freedom of us little guys and occasionally the souls of various drug dealers and warriors. The sad inevitabilities surrounding drug use and the quixotic quest to eradicate it have made piles upon piles fascinating material for writers and filmmakers. From Shakespearian tragedies to bleach-bypassed action fests, people getting high makes for some solid drama. But what if instead of the people getting high, there are forces that want to get high off the people? (Whoa)

Another slice of fried VHS gold, I Come in Peace (or Dark Angel, as the opening credits would have you believe) tells the simple, wholesome story of an intergalactic drug dealer who comes to Earth to harvest human endorphins, which are a highly sought controlled substance on his home planet. Since people don't just walk around barfing up endorphins (or "brain-happy-juice" for the lay folk) he has a brilliant plan for creating some: steal a metric shitload of premo-smack from some terrestrial pushers, then start randomly shooting up strangers. Their mind-factories then kick the endorphin production lines into high gear, and he's free to extract. (With extreme prejudice, natch.)
Step #3: Profit

Another wrinkle in the plan is that drug dealers, whether from Andromeda or the East side, don't just hand over their suitcases of heroin. Luckily, the white haired/eyed/blooded xeno-dealer is loaded for bear. He boasts super strength and speed, electromagnetically powered, razor edged flying CDs, and the staple of early '90s sci-fi action films: a gun that shoots explosions. Also, his drug cooking tools (a Scorpion style flying spear to shoot people up, and a big spike to ram into people's brains afterward) make decent backup weaponry.
He's from space. That's why.

Sure his planet's equivalent of a DEA agent is hot on his tail, but we the audience know that there is truly only one man up to the job: Dolph Lundgren, the prognathic neanderthal forever saddled with the misfortune of being one notch under the likes of Segal and Van Damme. (Note to Dolph: If I even meet you, I promise to do the best I possibly can not to say "I must break you." Just give me a hard look and I'll shut up right quick.) When Dolph's partner has his cover blown and is executed by drug dealers it becomes personal, but when those dealers are in turn massacred by killer flying CDs from space, it becomes... less personal. He gets saddled with a "by the book" cliché partner played by Brian BenBen, whose family must not have been very creative about changing their name when getting off the boat.
If by now you have formulated some idea of how the plot of this movie will play out, you are already at least 90% correct. (The other 10% reserved for various plot threads that don't actually go anywhere, such as the FBI conspiracy to cover up the aliens' existence.) To put it bluntly, Predator 2 and 48 Hours made sweaty love to each other, and this is their cross-eyed, bow-legged hellspawn. No "buddy cop" or "killer alien vs. cop" maxim is too trite, nor is any one liner too eye-roll inducing to not be used. Just take a look at the trailer:

Notice how, spoilers be damned, they show the hero's final quip before vaporizing the enemy. (In a scene that "cleverly" mirrors the finale of the film mainly responsible for such cliche wisecrackery, Commando.) That is a brave choice in trailer editing, but a calculated one, as the target audience is clearly less interested in plot than seeing Dolph kick people and use automatic space pistols that shoot explosions.What makes I Come in Peace fascinating beyond its creaky plotting and so-so everything else, is the completely unhinged "world building" that goes on, despite the film ostensibly taking place in a regular, non-bizarro version of 1990 Houston. For instance, the drug peddling gang that finds itself caught in the middle of the alien/Dolph conflict is known as "The White Boys" and rather than being a biker gang or offshoot of the Aryan Nation, they are a described as a "Yuppie Gang." This apparently means that they are a gang of guys who wear nothing but business attire, drives only Ferraris, and have corporate style meetings in a posh downtown office building. Its the themed gangs of The Warriors taken to an extreme so absurd that they are almost completely indistinguishable from the archetype which inspired their costumes. That or a real corporate board went collectively mad and decided to start bringing guns to work and dealing drugs. Whatever the case, Dolph (and by extension the audience) simply accepts this at face value.On top of that, much of the supporting cast is operating at the peak of weirdness. When Dolph and his new partner are in need of leads, they decide to "pump Boner" (Boner being played by Michael J. Pollard) by jamming a pistol in his crotch, alternately terrifying and arousing him. (At least that's what it looks like.)When faced with the scientific dilemma of examining the dangerous killer CD, Dolph turns to Bruce the scientist (Mark Lowenthal), whose twitchy, hyperactive performance suggests he thinks he is in a different movie. He does get the movie's best line, as seen in the above trailer: "It's like turning your radio dial to K I L L." Perhaps these long stretches of exposition seemed flat to the director, prompting him to tell the actors to dial the craziness up to 11.As far as the aliens themselves, they kind of look like Siegfried & Roy possessed by the Necronomicon after hitting the 'roids something fierce.
Click for Formulaic Detail

The evil one can be spotted by his distinctive white hair and ability to withstand multiple direct hits from both space and regular guns. The good one contrasts this with dark hair, pattern baldness, knowledge of more English phrases than "I come in peace," and the inability to survive even a near miss from a space gun. He is also filled with delicious looking marshmallow goo.
Stay Puft SpaceMan

I Come in Peace is quite possibly the worlds most predictable film. When the mortally wounded non-evil spaceman sneaks into the back of Dolph's sweet ride to pass on the explosion-gun and the grim task of saving the Earth, I made a wisecrack about his corpse exploding in order to deprive the heroes of solid proof of his existence. A moment later, he promptly vaporized. Next I made a joke about the movie providing me with winning lottery numbers, but I guess it was too much to ask.

With that said, it is awfully hard not to like the movie a little bit. With the villain's slasher style picking of random victims, the supporting cast's gonzo gusto, and the explosions punctuating every other scene, (not to mention the cheesy early '90s rap) it makes for interesting background noise at the very least. It almost seems intentionally calibrated to the TBS/Sci-Fi Channel purgatory in which it will forever reside. TV commercials are often mixed louder (and pumped up with dynamic range compression) to make sure that viewers will still be able to hear them during the inevitable trips to the bathroom or kitchen. I Come in Peace applies the same philosophy to its writing, acting, and pacing; the viewer may only be half paying attention, they may have tuned in fifteen minutes after it started, and they might tune out a half hour before the end credits roll, but in that gossamer sliver of time, they will at least be partially engaged by the overacting, alien drug murders, and explody space pistols. It's just a shame that they'll have to miss out on the establishing shots in the strip club scene.

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