Friday, May 5, 2017

DOLLMAN (1991)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

Given that Charles Band has become famous for producing scads of "morbid manikin" films, starting with 1989's PUPPET MASTER, I would have thought he would've done he'd done a lot more of them before he decided to try his luck with a small-size superhero. Now that I've checked the list of Full Moon productions, DOLLMAN is really the second manikin out of the gate, and only later was followed by DEMONIC TOYS, BLOOD DOLLS and all the rest.

The script, co-written by Band and directed by Albert Pyun, is a pretty straightforward "fish out of water" effort. On his home planet of Arturos, Brick Bardo is a hard-nosed cop who gets on the wrong side of his superiors, a la Dirty Harry (actor Tim Thomerson channels an unadulterated Eastwood). He also incurs the wrath of a crimelord named Sprug, who's been reduced to nothing but a talking head. Sprug sets his mob to kill the tough cop, but Bardo outshoots them with his blaster, and then boards a spacecraft to chase Sprug down. However, both of them pass through a dimensional gateway, and end up on Earth, where they are doll-sized.

Specifically, they end up in the South Bronx, which location provides the film's only sociological myth. A Hispanic lady named Debi (Kamala Lopez) is rescued by Bardo from some drug-dealers, and thus Bardo-- nicknamed "Dollman" much against his wishes-- incurs the wrath of ganglord Braxton Red (Jackie Earle Haley). Sprug briefly allies himself to Braxton, but nothing much comes of this, since Braxton kills the miniature crimelord early on. Debi takes Bardo into her home, introducing the miniature alien to her precocious little son. Given the disparity in size between Bardo and Debi, there are the inevitable sex jokes about things like "does size matter." Yet there's an interesting contrast between the uncompromising "crime is just plain evil" persona of Dollman versus the more reality-based concerns of Debi, given some impressive speeches talking about the hopelessness of life in the poverty-stricken South Bronx. But the script isn't able to do anything with the contrast: the poverty of the Bronx is merely a means of setting up Bardo's battles with the despicable gangster element.

This Dollman differs from most of the "mighty mite" superheroes of comic books-- including a "Doll Man" introduced by Quality Comics in 1940-- in that he doesn't fight with his fists but with a blaster capable of blowing its targets to pieces, even the giant-sized ones. It doesn't make for a lot of variety in the culminating fight-scene, since Dollman's human opponents aren't usually able to draw a bead on the minute crime-fighter. Still, there's a reasonable amount of havoc at the climax, and that's enough to make DOLLMAN adequate entertainment.

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