The movie that predicted the ’90s: “I Come in Peace”

September 12, 2013


Here is a little-seen gem of an action movie. 1990’s I Come in Peace (released internationally as Dark Angel) didn’t make much of a splash when it was released in theaters (it was actually released in theaters—the kind with seats and popcorn an everything—I shit you not), but it’s enjoyed a well-earned re-visiting in recent years. The Bad Movie Fiends podcasters rated it a “5 Jox” movie (that’s good), and after falling off the map after it’s VHS incarnation, has even gotten a Blu-Ray release (probably because of the BMFCasters full-throated endorsement—I mean, I can’t think of any other reason for it). While I Come in Peace may have been released at the cusp of the decade, but in many ways it foresaw the dominant trends in society and film that would dominate for a good part of the decade. Are you old enough to remember the ‘90s? No? Then trust me; everything I say is totally true.

To understand the cultural relevance of I Come in Peace, we must first go back a few years to the 1980s. Crack cocaine exploded on the scene, and pretty soon the entire nation was gripped in its, uh, rocky claws. The inner cities were being decimated. Children were born mutated creatures that fed on the flesh of the overworld-dwellers, and rival drug gangs battled for territory with arsenals that rivaled those of most Third World dictatorships. Ever seen Class of Nuke’em High? Yeah, it was totally like that.

So, yeah, we were pretty anxious about drugs, which is why it makes perfect sense that I Come in Peace would be about an alien drug-smuggler and the cops that were out to nail him. Fulbright scholar Dolph Lundgren plays Detective Jack Caine, a tough cop on the mean streets of Houston, who isn’t about to let some six-foot six albino alien suck the endorphins out of the heads of the kind folks in his city. Only he isn’t going to use his doctorate in engineering to take on this perp. Nope, he uses his 9mm H&K and his martial arts training to destroy anyone who gets in his way.

Apropos of nothing, all mechanics wore lingerie in the '90s.

Apropos of nothing, all mechanics wore lingerie in the ’90s.

Teaming up with Caine is Brian Benben as Larry Smith, a straight-arrow FBI agent, who brings a stiff professionalism to this job, but must learn to question the rules and culture of the FBI in order to take this guy down. In the end, he comes into his own by using a space machine-pistol to lay waste to pretty much everything (in fairness to Benben, he’s not the imposing of presences, so he kinda needs the space gun).

But how does I Come in Peace predict American culture in the ‘90s, you ask? Here we go:

Questioning the FBI: The ‘90s would see a series of high-profile failures for the Bureau—Ruby Ridge, Waco, the list goes on. Similarly, Smith comes to the ugly realization that his supervisor at the FBI doesn’t care about this case beyond what alien technology they can steal. When he balks at this, his supervisor tries to kill him. Which I don’t think the Bureau actually did in the ‘90s (maybe the ‘60s, though).

Compact discs are lethal (okay, if you don’t know what a CD is just Google it. I’m not gonna explain): ever seen someone killed by a CD? Well, watch this movie and you will. Compact discs were a relatively new technology in 1990, but they would soon take over the music industry, and their ability to segmentize and individualize songs would effectively kill the concept of the album, which was predicated on songs being played in a particular order in order to tell a story. So, yeah, CDs are lethal. Just not necessarily launched from an alien’s gauntlet, but that’s what they call metaphor. See? This shit’s deep.

White Boys: Yeah, that’s the name of the evil drug gang Caine is trying to smash as the movie begins. It’s run and peopled by MBAs in business suits who wield submachine guns. While this could be seen as a holdover from the yuppie-obsessed days of the ‘80s, it could also be seen as a metaphor (check it out, another one!) for the increasing corporatization of urban centers of the ‘90s. Most notably, Disney’s takeover of Times Square under the Giuliani administration. Because do you doubt that Disney has dudes in suits with MP-5Ks ready to shoot holes in everything? I’m pretty sure they do. Hell I would if I ran that outfit.

"Here's your golden parachute, bitch!"

“Here’s your golden parachute, bitch!”

The Cultured cop: Sure, Caine is a tough-ass man-mountain who likes to do his thinking at strip clubs. But consider, this cop is played by easily the smartest action star ever to kick someone in the head. On top of that, when he retires home to his tastefully-appointed apartment, he likes to unwind with a glass of red wine and some jazz. In the ‘80s we liked our cops be-mulleted and wearing blue jeans. But with the newfound prosperity of the ‘90s, we were looking for something slightly classier from the dudes entrusted to punch aliens in the face.

"I like to rewind with a little John Coltrane after I drive a Crown Vic through a shopping mall."

“I like to unwind with a little John Coltrane after I drive a Crown Vic through a shopping mall.”

Aliens: Did cops actually shoot it out with aliens during the ‘90s? Um, maybe. Could’ve happen, I suppose. But I do know that in 1994 The X-Files­ premiered, and for ten seasons Mulder and Scully chased aliens all around the US. They never blew any away, but that’s because Mulder was always kind of a puss.

Fans: I Come in Peace opens with a stylish shot of a large, ventilation fan. We really liked fans in our movies in the 1990s. I’m not really sure what that means, but we sure did like fans.

Alien vs. Alien: In the ‘90s American military and intelligence services, scrambling for relevance in a post-Cold War world, would work more extensively with unusual and unconventional allies. The most notable example is the massive manhunt for Pablo Escobar. In I Come in Peace, Caine and Smith must work with an alien cop to blow up an alien drug dealer. Hell, it’s practically the same thing. I don’t know why Mark Bowden didn’t sue.

Cali cartel hitman or alien drug dealer? Tough to tell, isn't it?

Cali cartel hitman or alien drug dealer? Tough to tell, isn’t it?

Practical stunts: Man, action movies were so much more awesome before CGI.

So that’s I Come in Peace, possibly the most prescient movie made in the ‘90s.

One comment

  1. these are great… have you done one for Rutger Hauer’s Split Second yet or Jeff Goldblum’s Mr. Frost yet? There’s gold in them there hills…

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