Three words: Disfigured Liam Neeson.
Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a scientist working on an artificial skin to help burn victims. It’s got one problem: it can’t survive more than 99 minutes in direct light, but functions perfectly in the dark. Other than this stumbling block, his life is moving along well: he’s got a great girlfriend, a sweet research gig and a swank laboratory. Until he hits the worst day of his life.
Westlake’s girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) is a lawyer working for the Strack company, headed up by the evil Louis Strack. She discovers an internal memo by accident. It’s too bad for her that the memo contains information about Strack’s shady business dealings with a mobster named Durant and Strack’s bribes to the zoning committee. Westlake picked it up by mistake on his way to his lab, so off go Strack & Durant’s minions to clean up the problem.
Poor Westlake got his marriage proposal to Julie laughed off that morning, then mobsters come in, beat him, drop him in a vat of acid, kill his assistant and explode his lab.
Yeah, that day would go right in the “Shittiest Day Ever” category.
Westlake’s battered, burned body washes ashore and the local hospital mistakes him for a homeless person. You know what this means! Experimentation! They snip some nerves so he can no longer feel pain, making him sorta superhuman, but with the major bummer side effect of increased emotional angst and some serious adrenaline rages. Think half-Wolverine berserker kind of stuff.
Westlake escapes the hospital, rebuilds his lab and decides to take out the bad guys who basically fucked up his awesome life and win his girl back. Said girl is operating under the assumption that he’s dead, actually, so Westlake has a ton of work ahead of him.
Darkman is far from greatness but it is fun. Made by Sam Raimi, it features a lot of Raimi hallmarks, but it feels more like a throwback to the old monster & sci fi flicks from the ’30’s – ’50’s than it does a modern flick. (Raimi’s montages in particular are evocative of this.)
Neeson does about as good a job as one can expect. He’s part Phantom of the Opera, part Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he spends most of his role (sadly for us shallow folks) in full burned up makeup. He’s stronger in the first part of the film, where he really does tug your heartstrings after he’s escaped from the hospital and is gradually realizing what happened to him.
What’s shocking is how much of a dullard Frances McDormand appears to be in this one. She looks shell-shocked for most of the movie, even before Peyton catches the fireball express to the river. Afterwards, she doesn’t get much better. Sad, but true – and it makes you wonder what Westlake’s expending all this energy to recover.
The ending of the movie is great and solid, but probably not the one audiences wanted to see. While the bad guys get their just rewards, the story line between McDormand and a progressively more and more unstable Neeson can only end in an unhappy way.
While it is entertaining, the effects can border on the bad and muffle the actors’ ability to do what they do best. It’s fun, but not inventive; dated and not fresh. This is something you’d pause to watch on cable on a Saturday afternoon and then move about your day, nothing from the movie sticking in your head.
However, since this is a Sam Raimi flick… obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo!
I know it’s widely popular to love Bruce Campbell, but how can you not? I adore the man, so this was the cherry on the top of a fun movie.