Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dollman (1991)

After some (un)funny business concerning “fat ladies”, delightfully named space cop on the edge Brick Bardo (Tim Thomerson) gets into a space chase with his flying head nemesis – who is such a delightful thing because Brick shot off the rest of his body during various earlier encounters we alas do not witness – Sprug (Frank Collison). Spug threatens their home planet in general and Brick specifically with some kind of dimensional bomb that’ll turn out to not amount to much of an explosion much later on.

Both their ships end up crashing down on Earth, the South Bronx to be precise. It’s a movie and it’s 1991, so it’s gang violence central there. Which might be a bit of a problem, because Brick turns out to be only 12 inches tall. Fortunately, he has a very special gun that’ll kill giants dead as good as anyone his own size. Brick starts out early with using it too, for he saves idealistic community activist Debi Alejandro (Kamala Lopez-Dawson) from some gang violence right after he comes to again. Debi grabs Brick and his damaged spaceship, while Sprug and his bomb land in the loving arms of also delightfully named gang boss Braxton Red (Jackie Earle Haley). Things develop from there rather as you’d expect them to.

To my surprise, this is one Albert Pyun movie I actually like. I’m not sure what happened during the making of the film, but somehow it avoids both of the curses plaguing the director’s filmography: Dollman is neither an exercise in boredom mostly broken up by different kinds of boredom, nor does it mistreat a viewer’s eyes with the dregs of Pyun’s would-be artsy direction style that’ll usually make everything he does different to parse bordering on complete inexplicability. Instead, the film’s pace is lively, and the direction expert low budget craft. If this was the first or only Pyun film I’d seen, I’d actually seek out more. It’s rather confusing, I have to admit.

Adding to these virtues is a script by Chris Roghair (an only writing credit that to me suggests a pseudonym) that’s often actually as funny as it thinks it is – though I could have gladly gone without the “fat ladies” bit – when it joyfully wades into cop on the edge clichés and mixes them with plain weird crap. Because the weird stuff alone probably won’t carry a whole film, and because it’s certainly much more interesting this way, Dollman’s tone turns surprisingly serious whenever Debi begins to talk about gang violence. It’s not exactly social realism, but the way the more earnest bits and the full-on B-movie bullshit collide and intermingle is highly fascinating and entertaining. The film also turns Haley’s Braxton into something more than a pure action movie villain. He’s crazy, violent and vile, but he also gets the motives and even a bit of the ambiguity of a person. Which obviously turns his and Debi’s interactions with tiny space aliens just the decisive bit weirder still. Even better, everyone in the cast – Thomerson is Thomerson anyway, and young-ish Haley and Lopez-Dawson certainly are no slouches - can actually sell this tonal strangeness rather well, making the film at once funnier and just plain interesting.

These are not words I expected to write about an Albert Pyun film about a tiny space cop taking place right in producer Albert Band’s main obsession space, but who am I to complain about a film being much more awesome and inspired than I expected?

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