Darkman (1990)


(director/writer: Sam Raimi; screenwriters: Daniel & Joshua Goldin/Chuck Pfarrer/Ivan Raimi/story by Sam Raimi; cinematographer: Bill Pope; editors: Bud S. Smith/David Stiven; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Liam Neeson (Dr Peyton Westlake), Frances McDormand (Julie Hastings), Larry Drake (Robert G. Durant), Colin Friels (Louis Strack Jr), Nicholas Worth (Pauly), Rafael H. Robledo (Rudy Guzman), Theodore Raimi (Rick); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Tapert; Universal; 1990)

“A wild ride in dumb escapist sci-fi hokum.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A wild ride in dumb escapist sci-fi hokum that holds up fairly well until its silly action-packed finale, where it goes up in flames and is brought down to an abrupt pedestrian level. Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”/”Army of Darkness”/ “The Evil Dead”) is the comic-book styled director, the story’s author and co-writer of the screenplay with a host of others. It mixes camp with blockbuster live-action scenes and draws on the scenario of the ‘misunderstood monster,’ that is best seen in Whale’ wonderfully creative and sensitive version of “Frankenstein” (31) and his ”The Invisible Man” (33) that has Claude Rains in a quandary on how to handle his new look. It also adds to the previously stated old-fashioned narrative a mod hipster style. Unfortunately the visionary aims of the story get crushed in the muddled process of mixing such opposite styles. It just never holds together as a complete film that passes the giggle test for credibility or the giggle test for enjoying such rubbish, no matter.

Workaholic nice guy scientist Dr Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is near perfecting a synthetic skin which conceals disfigurements. He must only prevent the skin from dissolving after 99 minutes. Peyton asks his lawyer friend, Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), to marry him. But before answering, she rushes off for a business meeting with her unscrupulous employer tycoon contractor, Louis Strack Jr (Colin Friels), about a document she found telling of city officials being bribed over building permits. Louis sends his goon squad, headed by the ruthless crime kingpin Durant (Drake), to recover the document. The thugs ransack Peyton’s lab that’s located in an abandoned warehouse, kill his assistant, steal the document Julie left there, clip off his fingers with a cigar clipper, toss him face down in a vat of caustic chemicals and blow up the lab. When thrown clear by the explosion over some distance, Peyton survives with his body severely burned and his face hideously disfigured (making him look like a monster). Julie mourns his death, but after being found by a river bank in an unconscious state he’s treated for pain as a John Doe at the hospital; but the radical treatment of deadening the pain has the side effect of causing great uncontrollable anger (giving him super-strength) and he escapes, returning to his lab to salvage what he can from his experiments.

Bent on revenge as a crazed avenging angel, Peyton designs a series of the temporary masks using the methods from his creative process and then impersonates and destroys all his enemies. It ends with the scientist telling Julie: “I’m everyone and no one, everything and nothing. Call me Darkman.” He then vanishes.

If one gets off alone on special effects and frenzied action-sequences spiked with corny comedy, then Raimi delivers the goods. But it was hard to get too excited over a real-estate scam, the stilted love scenes and the banal dialogue that never helped us get to the heart of the monster like those great Universal films in the thirties.