There’s a lot of talk on the inter­net the­se days about some­thing called “vul­gar auteurism.”  If you haven’t stum­bled across this con­cept yet, it’s best described as a pre­ten­tious and over-intel­lec­tu­al­ized way of not­ing that there are cer­tain direc­tors who make hard-hit­ting, straight­for­ward gen­re fare with skill and style.  Everyone from old-school­ers like Walter Hill to upstarts like Isaac Florentine are being lumped into this group.

A name that doesn’t pop up often in this group but deserves to is Craig Baxley.  He is an ex-stunt­man who has spent most of his career direct­ing for tele­vi­sion but start­ed off with a trio of fun, flashy action flicks: Action Jackson, Dark Angel and Stone ColdDark Angel, known to most U.S. view­ers under the alter­nate title I Come In Peace, is the sub­ject of this review and it blends sci-fi and action ele­ments in a way that makes it one of Dolph Lundgren’s most unique action-hero vehi­cles.

The nov­el script, co-writ­ten by a young David Koepp under the pseu­do­nym “Leonard Maas, Jr.,” starts with a pair of aliens arriv­ing in Dallas and cre­at­ing hav­oc.  One (Matthias Hues) is steal­ing large quan­ti­ties of hero­in and using it to mur­der var­i­ous earth­lings for mys­te­ri­ous rea­sons.  The oth­er (Jay Bilas) is try­ing to hunt the first alien down, prompt­ing explo­sive bat­tles that threat­en to burn the city to the ground.

Tough-guy detec­tive Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) finds him­self in the orbit of the alien con­flict when the bad alien steals some hero­in from a gang of white-col­lar drug deal­ers he’s try­ing to appre­hend.  The FBI moves in to inves­ti­gate and Caine finds him­self part­nered with Smith (Brian Benben), a spe­cial agent with a by-the-book men­tal­i­ty.  The two bump heads as they try to fig­ure out the moti­va­tion behind the alien drug/murder crime spree — and when they find that answer, it sets the stage for what might be humanity’s last stand again­st an alien inva­sion.

Dark Angel the kind of glee­ful, comic book action over­load that you hope for from an action/sci-fi crossover like this.  The script gets a lot of mileage out of famil­iar ele­ments via the cross­breed­ing of action and sci-fi tropes and also applies a good-natured sense of humor to this mix­ture.  It’s almost like Larry Cohen wrote a script for Joel Silver.  The expla­na­tion for why the bad alien is killing peo­ple is clever, seal­ing the film’s effec­tive blend of cop movie and sci-fi con­ceits, and there’s a nov­el weapon used to slash human throats that will amuse gen­re fans.

However, what puts Dark Angel over the top is Baxley’s vig­or­ous direc­tion.  His pac­ing is aggres­sive in a good way and he uses his spe­cial­ized stunt knowl­edge to cre­ate a string of eye-pop­ping action sequences: high­lights include a park­ing garage show­down between the aliens that involves one alien leap­ing across car hoods as they det­o­nate under­neath him and a fac­to­ry-set finale that packs more explo­sions into one reel than your aver­age war movie.

Like the best action direc­tors, Baxley also enjoys his actors and uses them well: Lundgren deliv­ers a nice­ly under­played vari­a­tion on the cyn­i­cal cop hero under Baxley’s direc­tion while Benben sets the tone for the film’s sar­cas­tic sense of humor with his sly asides to the action.  Betsy Brantley also deliv­ers a spirit­ed per­for­mance as Caine’s love inter­est (in an inter­est­ing wrin­kle, she’s also the city’s coro­ner).  Finally, Lundgren gets a wor­thy foe in Hues, who uses his gigan­tic frame and icy Nordic looks to cre­ate a gen­uine­ly impos­ing vil­lain.

Simply put, Dark Angel is guar­an­teed to hit the sweet spot for fans of old-school action fare: it’s engag­ing, full of thrills and said thrills are all the sweet­er because they were done with real prac­ti­cal effects.  Whether you’re a pro­po­nent of “vul­gar auteurism” or just a good, old-fash­ioned fan of gen­re flicks, there is plen­ty of explo­sive fun to be had here.