Monday, August 20, 2012


I seriously don't care if the Expendables sequel is now out in theaters, thus making the "Countdown" part of the title to this blog entry pointless. We've got more epicness in store (and to be honest, I didn't even see Expendables 2 this past weekend. I saw Beasts Of The Southern Wild). In this next Expendables entry John Cribbs (the other half of the Pink Smoke) breaks down a movie that's very near & dear to my heart: I COME IN PEACE - Another underrated Dolph Lundgren film that for some strange reason hasn't really stood the test of time. As I stated in The Punisher intro, John is the only other person worthy enough to write about something Dolph Lundgren-related besides Doug Frye & myself.


In his first major role, Dolph Lundgren played Ivan Drago, the genetically-perfected personification of American xenophobia. At the time of its release, the Reagan administration was in full swing and people in the states were nervous about what schemes those nefarious Russkies might be cooking up. Since they never sent the bombs over, suspicions instead turned to the superhuman athletes they sent to the Olympics. Tensions were so highly raised between countries that the U.S. boycott of the Moscow-hosted 1980 games seemed as much a protest against the Soviet Union's sturdily-built champions as it was the war in Afghanistan (the Russians responded in kind by snubbing the 1984 games in Los Angeles.) By creating Drago, Sly Stallone seemed to be putting on screen what many a Soviet-mistrusting Yank suspected: Russian athletes were, in fact, lab-grown killing machines specifically bred to infiltrate our shores and conditioned to murder our most charming celebrity boxers, forcing James Brown to flush anything he had on him and "split" before the cops arrived on the scene. Drago embodied every negative stereotype against foreigners: he's cold, rude, remorseless, homicidal, unpatriotic and, most alarmingly, blonde - truly a menacing Red Grant for the 80's. His naturally hard expression and impenetrable Riefenstahlan exterior stereotyped Dolph (in reality, a Swede) as specifically "non-American" and he played a Russian in three of his first four movies. Even in his non-Russian debut he played an Eternian, once again the fish-out-of-water foreigner, albeit the more polished, polite and social He-Man: he may have been the hero, but he still had to figure out such radical American concepts as fried chicken and clothes.

So when the great Craig R. Baxley was tasked with Americanizing the Siberan Express, he did three things: he darkened Dolph's hair, let him live indoors (as the Punisher he had to hang around naked in the sewer) and gave him an even more imposing foreign adversary in the form of an 8-foot albino alien drug dealer who lands in Houston (of course) and embarks on a human killing spree. At first this big bad mother from another planet seems like an avenging dark angel, eviscerating a group of yuppie gangsters who just wasted Dolph's partner, but it turns out the alien just needs to steal heroin from these guys so he can inject it into his victims, thus producing an explosion of endorphins which he then depletes with a nasty looking endorphin extractor. As it so happens endorphins are premium product in whatever galaxy he comes from and his mission, if successful, will result in wave after wave of similarly unstoppable extraterrestrial lowlifes coming to Earth to cheaply harvest those sweet sweet peptides once the word's out on "the street." I guess they'll all have to luck out and score a giant batch of heroin upon their arrival like ol' Talec (the alien's name according to the credits, never mentioned onscreen*) or target tread mills around the globe to take advantage of exercise nuts excreting endorphins during a runner's high.

Aliens have always been the ultimate cinematic corruptors from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Jack Sholder's The Hidden (which would make a great double feature with ICIP), and Talec is the Earth tourist from hell. He only knows two things: destruction on an apocalyptic scale, and the ironic catchphrase "I come in peace," his standard greeting to those he's about to relieve of their precious endorphins. Talec's use of this false assurance, stemming from a pop cultural staple emblematic of American optimism for a future of universal peace and unity, is thankfully never explained by any of the characters or, god forbid, a terrible scene where after Talec's just landed and happens to glance at a TV playing some old sci fi B-movie and picks up the phrase from the film's alien visitor. His only other line, in the last scene, is "I win!" which he states very clearly and in the proper context, so he must understand enough English to know what he's saying. He couldn't say "I come in peace" to catch people off-guard: more often than not he says it after he's already subdued his victim, or as he's sucking him dry. No, the implication seems to be that a shifty, colorless, leather-clad foreigner will come bearing glad tidings and offers of peace and then it's all killer flying discs and non-consensual lumbar punctures, his subversive adapting of the term "I come in peace" a perversion of one of our most iconic commodities like an 8-foot albino KAWS painting. The pattern of Talec's killings is seemingly random: at first it seems like he's going after anyone with a gun Predator-style, but soon his list of endorphin suppliers vary in age, race and sex as if the very concept of multiple cultures in a single country is a detestable tenet that should be eradicated - all for the sake of drug trafficking, itself an import from areas outside the U.S. (and now from beyond the stars.) This cosmic dilla has to be dealt with and sent home - in pieces!

So Dolph gets cowboy'd up as a cop named Caine and rises up to exact some biblical vengeance on this intergalactic Goliath. It does have to be pointed out that his revenge is somewhat misguided, since Talec didn't technically kill his partner, who - despite holding an MBA from the University of Suck My Dick - isn't smart enough to realize when his cover's been blown and gets executed by a drug gang while Dolph's busy thwarting an unrelated violent crime happening at the same time (you know how Houston is.) I'd say Dolph, who no doubt identified with the role of the invading foreigner he would have been playing not a year or two earlier, made a subconscious decision to go after the alien to assuage the guilt over not being there for his partner, but Caine is so clearly into himself - and with good cause. He's not a greasy, unshaven shell of his former self like Sly in Cobra, Eastwood in The Gauntlet or Rourke in any movie of his from the last 20 years: he's impeccably clean and put-together, a trend Dolph would continue in Showdown in Little Tokyo that would go on to inspire good grooming and presentable hygiene in modern action stars like the typically dapper Statham (and this was coming off The Punisher, in which you could practically smell the sewer coming off Dolph from the screen.) Still, his new partner, FBI agent Brian Benben, criticizes Dolph's "particular look," which is no more than a suede jacket over a black dress shirt (occasionally unbuttoned) with an Elvis cut. All part of Dolph's new American image, complete with a spacious and clean bachelor pad that causes Benben to retract his earlier comment with an apologetic "I guess I figured you wrong." It's a great character moment for both of them, because it establishes that Dolph, although he may be distrustful of authority and just might play by his own rules more often than the rules of others, has his shit together while Benben is a superficial consumer who judges people by their wine collection. Later on, he hogs a confiscated alien gun like it's his new Christmas toy nobody else is allowed to play with.

Which makes sense since the movie takes place during the holiday season, as aggressively established in the opening scene where a guy listening to Christmas music in his car gets angry when the cd skips, skids into a Christmas tree lot, then exits the vehicle and angrily pronounces "Merry fucking christmas!" to himself. The Christmas music continues throughout the film and one victim is shown watching It's a Wonderful Life on tv while drinking egg nog, but none of this yuletide joy seems at all relevant to the plot itself. So why set it at Christmas, besides the obvious parallels between the visiting alien and notorious endorpin pusher Santa Claus? Because of Die Hard of course! Die Hard had set the bar for all action movies of the late 80's and throughout the 90's, so if a movie wasn't about a bedraggled law enforcement agent standing up to a team of terrorists in a set location or moving vehicle, it had to tap into that DH formula some other way. In its defense however, the action in I Come in Peace - like Action Jackson and Stone Cold before it - is just as impressively directed as anything in the Die Hard films and other more respectable Hollywood fare. Baxley's Holy Trilogy is a milestone in the guiltlessly pleasurable Guns, Girls** and Explosions brand of excessive action cinema because Baxley is so game to go beyond the top. For example, the opening crime is a bunch of guys disguising themselves as cops and heisting drugs from the evidence room (a cool idea!) who, after walking out of the station scot-free, blow up the entire building as "a little insurance." And these aren't even the main villains - that would be the giant alien with a weapon that can be best described as an "explosion gun." Literally, every time he fires the area turns into a raging inferno of detonations. The violent urban environment, where two crimes are going down simultaneously in any given part of town, is ideal for this destructive space invader, and it's notable that Baxley's movie pre-dated Predator 2 by a couple months, making it the original excessive contemporary action movie/sci fi hybrid (Baxley directed second unit on the original Predator.) It's also worth mentioning that, although ICIP came out Terminator, it was ahead of T2 and the overall feel of the movie and beats of the action scenes seem to anticipate where Cameron would take his series into the new decade.

Of course Dolph's memorable response to Talec's title catchphrase, a quip made after he escapes being brain-raped by the heroin-dispensing space tube, is a celebrated classic that the trailer couldn't help but ruin for everybody. Even folks who've never had the fortune of seeing the movie know the "you go in pieces, asshole" line, but those who've missed out have never heard Dolph's equally terrific, climactic slam "Fuck you, spaceman!" The snappy one-liners aren't the only cliché the movie manages to make its own: the straight-laced partner scheme also works a lot better than it should. Benben is a weenie, but he's not always wrong: sometimes Dolph's beloved instincts aren't appropriate to the current situation and more formal procedures are in fact called for. He's obnoxious, but he could be worse - he at least listens to maxims for the Caine Manual such as "Never trust nobody" without correcting Dolph's grammar. And his reactions to these colossal spacemen with sour cream for blood who spontaneously combust when they die are never less than priceless. I used to think Benben made some kind of deal with Satan to pull the stunning Madeleine Stowe, but this movie convinced me that there may have been some amount of charm utilized in his conquest. He and Dolph have great chemistry, with nice back-and-forths like "I'm a team player!" "Well your team sucks." Benben's no Danny Glover, but he's a step above an intelligent German Shepherd or sass-talkin' dinosaur. By the time we cut to the freeze frame and Shooting Star's "Touch Me Tonight" seals the union of these two mismatched alien-besting buddy cops for eternity, Benben has learned to be a little looser and Dolph has become a certified defender of America and the entire goddamn planet.

* Michael J Pollard also plays a character named Boner - can't remember if they call him that in the movie or not.

** Actually the girl in ICIP isn't too hot and feels a bit arbitrary to the goings-on. She's played by Betsy Brantley, Jessica Rabbit's body double and the former Mrs. Steven Soderbergh. She does have a good line aimed at Dolph's unreliable boyfriend of a cop: "This time when you had me wondering if you were dead or alive, I was kind of rooting for dead." Ouch! Wonder if she ever used that one on Soderbergh?

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