Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Albert Pyun’s Dollman.
On the planet Artutos, which bears a striking resemblance to post-apocalyptic Earth as seen in the movie Hardware (sepia tone and all), tough as nails cop Brick Bardo gets into a tussel with a floating head named Sprug and his gang, who have a reality-destroying bomb. When Bardo chases Sprug, they travel through some glowing space-lights and end up stranded on early-90s Earth (in the South Bronx to be exact). Whilst on Earth, Bardo and Sprug get caught up in an ongoing conflict between Debi and the local gang of scumbags lead by Jackie Earle Haley. Bloodshed ensues. Oh… and Bardo and Sprug are much smaller on Earth than they are on their own planet, but it’s not like that really matters.
The plot is kind of straightforward, with the entire opening being pretty meaningless once we get into the Bronx and start dealing with the gang issues. There’s the bomb and the floating head villain, but both are non-issues by the end of the film, instead shifting all of the focus onto Debi and the gang. Bardo and Sprug are just sort of along for the ride.
The cast here is what makes the movie, because they’re all way stronger than they have any right to be. Obviously Jackie Earle Haley kills it as the villain, but given that he has since gone on to bigger and better things that is to be expected. He steals the show a little bit, really showing more range than similar villains in similar movies ever get to. Tim Thomerson is great as Dollman himself, Brick Bardo. He hams it up the whole time, playing a very exaggerated parody of the “badass cop who doesn’t play by the rules” trope. Kamala Lopez is also pretty impressive as Debi. What I immediately like about her is how tough she is. She lives in the South Bronx and doesn’t take crap from anyone, including the vicious psychopaths that roam her neighborhoods slinging dope and corrupting the minds of the youth. It’s a bit of a shame that she’s relegated to a damsel in distress role by the end, but she certainly doesn’t take it lying down.
Dollman is a pretty dark and gritty movie. Starting off with a post-apocalyptic planet that looks like absolute hell, when we move to the more familiar Earth it only gets worse. This movie does for the South Bronx what Robocop did for Detroit. There is trash and graffiti everywhere and monstrous gangs gun each other down in broad daylight. The bloodshed in this movie is excessive and there is some pretty gruesome (yet still cartoonishly over the top) gore throughout. The effects are good for the most part, even if they can get cheesy at times. The floating head villain is bizarre, but they just zoom into an actor’s face when he speaks instead of trying to actually pull off any kind of special effect for him.
Alright, now let’s stop beating around the bush and get to the big problem with this movie. It’s called Dollman. The entire gimmick of the film is that we have this action hero shrunk down to miniature size and stranded. The idea that he just happens to appear pint-sized because our planet is larger than his is sort of a clever idea, but unfortunately they never take advantage of the premise. When they set him up as this ridiculous badass cop stereotype I assumed it would be so that when he appears super small on Earth it would knock him down a peg. He can’t resort to his old tricks when he’s in a world of giants…right? Wrong.
They set it up very early that his gun is ludicrously powerful, able to tear holes through multiple people at once, so when the gang comes knocking on Debi’s door he blasts them away without even breaking a sweat. This was a great opportunity to really put this guy through the ringer, but instead the entire movie really could have gone down almost exactly the same even if he were full-sized. Imagine instead how this could have gone if they had put in even half the creativity that something like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! or even the recent Antman put in. Imagine how a badass action hero would deal with the scorpion or even a vacuum cleaner. What a waste!
Maybe this is for the best, though. The biggest misfire in the film isn’t even that they never utilize the premise, it’s that they never sell it. Bardo never really feels like he’s only thirteen inches tall and it seems like they don’t even make an attempt to make it work. He spends most of his time in his ship (which is scaled to his size) so they never have to build over-sized sets. When he does go out into the world it’s laughably unconvincing. There are even moments where you can plainly see that he’s standing in front of regular-sized bricks when they should be much larger compared to him. The only times that you can even get a sense of scale are when they use these truly awful green screen effects to show both him and Debi in the same shot, but they just look terrible.
In spite of it’s main premise being almost completely meaningless in the long run, Dollman is still an entertaining movie. It’s harsh and uncompromising and the cast are all far better than the film probably deserves. There’s an early performance by Jackie Earle Haley that’s worth it for the curiosity alone. Plot-wise it’s a bit all over the place, but it moves so quick and so many parts of it are just plain weird that it’s never boring. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.