Last Updated on December 29, 2023
I Come in Peace… You Go in Pieces!
So goes one of the coolest one-liners I have ever heard, and it’s part of one of the most unheralded Christmas action movies ever. Now, Christmas action movies have always been a thing. Something about the juxtaposition of the holidays and ultra-violent action has always been irresistible to Hollywood. In movies like First Blood and To Live and Die in LA, the holiday theme makes the desperately violent scenario all the more grim. At the same time, other classics like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard ultimately have Christmas messages about friendship and family that come through just as strongly as in a straight-up Christmas movie like It’s a Wonderful Life.
Yet, not every Christmas action flick becomes a classic, which brings me to this special Christmas edition of The Best Movie You Never Saw, where we tackle the Dolph Lundgren Actioner I Come In Peace, which is also known by the title it’s currently streaming as, Dark Angel.
Dolph Lundgren’s career was at a strange place in 1990. Mainstream action hero stardom hadn’t really panned out for him, with Masters of the Universe being a flop, but he ended up signing on for a slew of movies that weren’t quite the DTV-level work he’s become known for in the late part of the 90s, but weren’t quite big studio movies either. They were B-movies, albeit ones with decent budgets that were intended for some theatrical play. Those movies include Red Scorpion, The Punisher, Showdown in Little Tokyo, and Dark Angel.
This was one of the first produced screenplays for writer David Koepp, who would become an A-list screenwriter after Jurassic Park and a slew of their hits, including Mission Impossible, War of the Worlds, Spider-Man and many more. It was directed by action specialist Craig R. Baxley, who helmed two other Best Movie You Never Saw classics, Action Jackson and Stone Cold. Dark Angel was produced independently but on a high enough level that the idea was that it would sell to a major studio, something which didn’t happen, and the film only received a middling theatrical release as I Come in Peace. Yet, it was a worldwide hit on the home video market, particularly in the UK, where it kept its original title.
Dolph Lundgren plays a down-and-out cop named Jack Caine, who works in Houston and is on the trail of a drug lord named Victor Manning, who runs a crew of yuppie drug dealers called The White Boys. In the film’s opening moments, the White Boys not only steal a massive load of cocaine from a police station, but they blow it up for good measure while also making the mistake of killing Caine’s partner Ray, thanks mainly to the fact that Jack, who’s presented as a pretty incompetent cop, got distracted by a liquor store holdup that gave him a chance to unleash some roundhouse kicks, and left his partner to be discovered by the bad guys.
Yet, the White Boys aren’t Jack’s only problem. There’s also a hulking Alien named Talec, played by a friend of JoBlo.com’s Matthias Hues, who is using heroin to trigger the release of endorphins in his human victims, that he can suck out and sell as a drug in his home world. How’s that for a high concept? An alien cop-out to stop Talec is quickly neutralized, but he passes on his alien tech to Jack, who now has to deal with the White Boys and this alien. But, in true buddy cop fashion, he’s got a new partner, a geeky FBI agent named Smith, played by Brian Benben, a face known to 90s aficionados for two reasons. He was the lead on the sexy HBO series Dream On, which many of us watched thanks to all the skin it featured. The other is that the lucky guy ended up marrying dream girl Madeline Stowe – and they’re still married today! What a lucky guy! Lundgren also has a love interest in the movie, a coroner played by Betty Brantley. Lundgren, believe it or not, is charming in their romantic scenes, thanks mainly to Brantley being a rather high-class love interest. Her and the pretty skilled Benben help elevate Lundgren’s acting game considerably, making him seem much more comfortable on camera, which carried over to his next film, Showdown in Little Tokyo. One imagines Benben coaching him on being a little more laid back and naturalistic – and it worked well.
When I Come in Peace was made, stories about Dolph’s interesting background emerged. A native of Sweden, before becoming a model and then action star, Lundgren was an academic with a degree in chemical engineering and a Fullbright scholarship to MIT. In the movie, Benben’s FBI agent initially treats him like a meathead until Dolph brings him back to his loft, which is full of modern art, a wine rack and a pool table, showing the multitudes of the characters. Usually, rebel cops lived in shithole apartments or, like Riggs, a dumpy trailer. Lundgren’s place is sleek and sophisticated, just like the actor himself. Sure, he rocks a Henley and pumps iron, but he also likes to relax and unwind with a lovely Merlot. Yet, he’s also enough of a lunkhead, and when he realizes he’s dealing with an alien bad guy, he’s pretty pissed to discover that his new partner and captain don’t believe his claims of drug dealing aliens.
This is a hallmark of director Baxley’s work. His rugged guy heroes are often unconventionally sophisticated or unconventional. In Action Jackson, the title character has a law degree and rocks a tux (and a Henley), while in Stone Cold, Brian Bosworth’s copper lives on the beach with a pet iguana. The use of an army of white yuppie drug dealers is a nice touch, too, with them the kind of bad guys you don’t mind being mowed down, especially when their boss is Mr Gorpley from Perfect Strangers. Matthias Hues is also a cool-looking villain with his platinum blond mullet, being 6’5 and a good match for Lundgren who, in harsh, more modern action stars like Vin Diesel, The Rock and Jason Statham who take to heart, doesn’t mind taking his licks on screen and being an underdog.
I Come in Peace (a title I prefer to Dark Angel) is a fun little action movie with good Houston, Texas locations and a very evocative of its era score by Jan Hammer of Miami Vice fame. Granted, it’s more than a little dumb, and there could have been a little more action worked in, with the White Boys initially set up as a much more significant threat than they end up being. I always wanted a massive body count in movies like this, but I think the budget was probably too low.