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  Darkman Master Of Disguise
Year: 1990
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake, Nelson Mashita, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Rafael H. Robledo, Dan Hicks, Ted Raimi, Dan Bell, Nicholas Worth, Aaron Lustig, Arsenio 'Sonny' Trinidad, Julius Harris, Jenny Agutter, Bruce Campbell
Genre: Action, Thriller, Science Fiction, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: At a warehouse, there is a spot of trouble going down where gangster leader Eddie Black (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson) is confronting a rival, Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake) about his plans for a takeover bid so he can dominate the new dockside business development. Although Eddie believes his opponents to be unarmed, he is proven wrong when one of the henchmen produces a machine gun from his colleague's false leg and mows down Eddie's men. After a skirmish, Durant emerges triumphant and adds to his collection of fingers, confident that no one will stand in his way now. There is someone, however: a pioneering scientist named Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson)...

Darkman was director Sam Raimi's first attempt at mainstream blockbusting acceptance after cult hits with the initial two Evil Dead movies (and to a lesser extent, Crimewave). He had originally planned to adapt the famous early superhero The Shadow to the big screen, but when he couldn't secure the rights (the film was made by other hands a few years later), he was forced to come up with his own hero instead. And perhaps that's part of the reason this never really caught on, he seemed like a young pretender rather than an established character.

Not that Raimi and his team of writers, including brother Ivan Raimi, did not set up any grounding for their protagonist, no, as with many superhero tales this is an origin narrative and there's a lot of overinvolved plotting to get through before the story begins proper. This means Peyton's romance with girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) being introduced, her relationship to shady property developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels) and his relationship to Durant made clear, and of course a big explosion that is supposed to kill Peyton and make everyone think he is dead.

Revenge is the order of the day, then, because it was Durant and his men who staged the murder attempt on Peyton, and he has memorised their faces. In the meantime, his damaged body is given a new treatment by doctor Jenny Agutter (of all people) until he escapes out into a thunderstorm to set up new lab for his synthetic skin, handy if your face has been almost destroyed. Also handy for making disguises, as he finds out, and Neeson seems miscast despite his bravery at taking a role where his features are obscured by makeup or bandages, seeming unsure of whether to approach it as camp or entirely serious.

It doesn't help that his Darkman voice sounds like Jimmy Durante, but there are compensations with this director, and in some ways this was a dry run for his Spider-Man films, with plentiful action shot through with his customary flair - more idiosyncratic than his Spidey efforts, actually, making this something of a missing link between that and his earlier, more frantic stylings. While it's not laugh out loud funny, it is fairly amusing and better with the more lightweight sequences than the classic horror influenced musings over the nature of freaks and monsters that trouble Peyton. Naturally, it would have been better with Bruce Campbell in the lead role as was the original intention, but Darkman doesn't deserve to be neglected; if you approach it as a romp, then you should enjoy it. Music by Danny Elfman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Sam Raimi  (1959 - )

Precociously talented American director with a penchant for horror/fantasy and inventive camerawork. Raimi made a huge impact with his debut film The Evil Dead at the tender age of 22, a gory, often breathtaking horror romp made on a tiny budget with a variety of friends from his hometown of Detroit. Follow-up Crimewave was a comic misfire, but Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were supremely entertaining, while tragic superhero yarn Darkman was Raimi's first time wielding a big budget.

Raimi showed a more serious side with the baseball drama For Love of the Game, thriller A Simple Plan and supernatural chiller The Gift, before directing one of 2002's biggest grossing films, Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 was released in summer 2004, with Spider-Man 3 following two years later. He then returned to outright horror with the thrill ride Drag Me to Hell, and hit Wizard of Oz prequel Oz the Great and Powerful after that. On the small screen, Raimi co-created American Gothic and the hugely popular Hercules and Xena series. Bruce Campbell usually pops up in his films, as does his trusty Oldsmobile car.

 
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