AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 79 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
10,000 light years from earth exists the planet Arturos. There, Brick Bardo is a tough cop with a reputation for leaving bodies in his trail. Against the wishes of the mayor, he sorts out a hostage situation, but is later framed for the deaths of some of the hostages. Later when answering his door, he’s knocked out and awakes beside Sprug, Bardo’s arch enemy who now only has his ugly head remaining after all their previous encounters. During a chase through space, the two both go through an”energy band” and crash land on earth to find themselves extremely small and in the South Bronx where a gangster named Braxton Reed runs things….
There was a period during the video era where it seemed like every week there would be a new film out from Albert and son Charles Band’s Full Moon company, and I saw quite a few of them, though they’ve somewhat blurred into each other now. Dollman though was a favourite and one I made sure I obtained. A deal offering some of the 88 Films Full Moon releases prompted me to buy it on Blu-ray and, after watching it again after many years, it’s still immensely entertaining, if in truth a mixture of good and bad. The plot is threadbare and the special effects mostly pretty awful with the budget being obviously so low that there was no chance of a successful realisation of most of the things that happen in the movie. However, there’s a delightful quirkiness and charm about the whole thing and it’s often genuinely funny both intentionally and unintentionally while still providing some danger and even grittiness, director Albert Pyun [The Sword And The Sorcerer, Cyborg], always a filmmaker I’ve rather liked despite being perpetually stuck in ‘B’ movie hell [or heaven depending on your outlook] balancing the rather disparate aspects of the film into quite a smooth watch – even if it sometimes seems like he’d rather be making a social realist drama about life in the Bronx.
With little background stuff about films like this, I’m going to skip my usual information paragraph for these and go straight into the reviews proper, and I must say that an early shot of a city on Arturus is really impressive and highly convincing. They probably just superimposed some models on to a shot of a real city but it works very well, and I did initially wonder if my memories about the effects being laughable were false – but it’s possible that most of the money went into these early scenes judging by the shoddiness of what follows. The first sequence, replete with variations on some very familiar lines, is a parody of your usual Dirty Harry scene where Callaghan turns up to deal with a crisis while the bosses worry about the corpses and the bad publicity that may result. Thomerson even speaks just like Clint Eastwood, though for the rest of the film he talks more like himself. Bardo deals with a hostage situation by scaring the hostages, who are mainly large women, so they faint and fall onto the bad guy. Then he has a run-in with the evil Sprug, who has had various meetings with Bardo before and each time has lost some body parts so he’s now just a head on a floating jet. He shoots Sprug’s accomplices, and because his gun is “the most powerful handgun in the universe”, the villains bloodily explode upon impact. Then suddenly, with no transition scene [perhaps it was in the script but they ran out of money to film it], he’s in space pursuing Sprug in a spacecraft chase realised by footage from the TV series Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, before passing through some glowing lights and crashing [though we don’t see the actual crash] on earth.
As a way of both establishing the environment within which Bardo now finds himself, and also as a way of padding out the already short film for a few minutes for very little money, Pyun now decides to give a lengthy montage of the South Bronx, and it’s quite stylish though the whip-pans get a little dizzying. The bad guys are reasonably intimidating, but any attempt at gritty realism then goes out of the window when we meet single mother Debi who is very poorly acted by Kamala Lopez. She’s sick of all the gangsters in the area and wants to do something about it but the police don’t seem to be interested. Of course when Bardo’s gun, despite now being tiny, is still able to blast holes in people, perhaps he could be the person to sort things out despite this once-invincible fascist cop now being the size of a toy. And of course Sprug is still around and for a while seems able to manipulate the bad guys before he’s easily squashed by one, leaving behind some sort of inter-dimensional bomb which doesn’t really need to be in the story at all. Gunfights and perpetually grumpy Bardo’s amusing responses to being small and other character’s responses to his size take up most of the running time, and it’s just about enough, while we also get a growing friendship between Bardo and Debi leading to a final line that deserves to be placed not far below “well, nobody’s perfect” from Some Like It Hot. Bardo says to Debi: “Debi, tell me size doesn’t count”?
In fact Dollman is full of amusing lines which help keep things lively even when the story fails to really develop in interesting ways. However, the special effects are absurdly limited in scope and, while I’m a fan of old school handmade effects, one really wonders how on earth the filmmakers thought they could get by with the money and the resources that they had. Bardo and humans are only very rarely shown in the same shot and when they are the matting is very poor. Bardo isn’t even seen interacting much with oversized props which would have provided more of an illusion of his smallness. It’s painfully obvious that they used the same rundown location for an early scene on Arturos as they did for a great many scenes on planet earth. Then there’s a truly hilarious bit where Bardo jumps out of a third floor window and onto a moving car which uses a motionless doll for one shot. What makes this film such fun, and what in my opinion makes films like this better than many of the comparable stuff made today, is that, though the filmmakers knew some of the film would look rubbish and revel in the fact, they only do this up to a point. They still try to take the story a little bit seriously and make us care about the characters, and they walk the tightrope quite well.
Shot largely in browns and oranges and with lots of the Pyun signature shots of smoke and streaming lights, Dollman isn’t actually very nice to look at though it was obviously intended to appear the way that it does. Thomerson occasionally seems a little bored but does okay basically playing Jack Deth from Trancers again, and Jackie Earle Haley is entertainingly nasty as the main gun member. Anthony Riparetti’s synthesiser score adds the final touch of cheesy retro charm. This incredibly goofy and highly eccentric movie is no ‘B’ classic like Trancers, but, watching it last night, I sat there with a silly grin on my face all the way through, just like I did when I first saw the picture. Of course it would be improved considerably with a higher budget, but it may also lose something. They obviously did their best with what they had in making Dollman, and that’s certainly something to praise.