ALIEN AGENT is a 2007 made-for-Sy-Fy collaboration between Mark Dacascos and director Jesse V. Johnson. For Dacascos it might’ve been the type of quickie affair he could do for fun and profit between hosting Iron Chef America and appearing in occasional higher profile movies like CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE* and CODE NAME: THE CLEANER. For Johnson it was definitely a gig for hire, his fifth movie as a director but still a learning experience a decade before he started dominating the low budget action world with SAVAGE DOG, ACCIDENT MAN, THE DEBT COLLECTOR and TRIPLE THREAT. So it’s not a career best for either, but it’s a scrappy, entertaining little cheapie with some pleasingly odd touches stirred through the humble sparseness of its production.
Dacascos plays Rykker, a guy who drives around acting like a fed, even flashing a badge, but then steals a police car and sleeps with his tie on in a closed church. He seems to be in an ongoing one-man guerrilla war against a gang of leather-jacket-wearing thugs led by a hot tattooed badass lady named Isis (Amelia Cooke, SPECIES III). In truth they’re all aliens from the same dying planet, and Rykker is sort of a conscientious objector trying to stop Isis’s group from enslaving the human race. Apparently they used to date, and they seem to still kind of like each other, but he believes their people can find an uninhabited world to colonize, and she thinks that’s not enough of a sure thing, so they fight.
The aliens don’t have super strength or anything, because they came here by transferring their consciousness into dead human bodies. But they do have advanced particle technology that can heal some of their wounds. There’s a scene where Rykker uses tongs to pull a slug out of himself without anesthetic. (Yes, he plops it into a container that makes a clink sound, but it’s a glass bowl instead of the traditional metal plate.) Many of the digital FX look very crude, but it’s kinda cool whenever an alien gets shot and glimmery little sparkles spray out of the wound.
This is kind of in the tradition of I COME IN PEACE or THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, movies about one faction of humanoid alien chasing another on earth among unknowing humans. But rather than a gritty urban setting it’s a pretty bland rural area. Obviously that means there are scenes set at a homey diner where everybody knows your name and a truck stop. In the former, Rykker happens to be there to intervene and twist the wrist of a redneck who sexually harasses the young waitress (Emma Lahana, Power Rangers DinoThunder, Cloak & Dagger).
I’ve seen this exact scenario over four hundred thousand times, but I can still enjoy a good variation on it. ‘Cause it’s a timeless story with universal themes, like A Christmas Carol. The unusual thing here is that the waitress, Julie, will become the co-lead (her aunt and uncle are killed by the aliens and she latches onto Rykker for protection). The really unusual thing is that the asshole is played by motherfuckin Billy Zane!
The butt-grabbing backwards-baseball-hat-and-army-jacket bully harassing the waitress in the small town diner is such a traditional character type that I didn’t even notice it was my man THE PHANTOM at first. Then he gets killed and possessed by Isis’ boss Saylon, so he spends most of the movie in a power plant overseeing the construction of a portal and occasionally sending more guys to fail to kill Rykker. Zane definitely makes his limited scenes of squinty judgment interesting, but I suspect he just took the role because of the scene where he got to be a yahoo hunter who sees a UFO while drinking beer in the woods.
As much as Johnson works with action stars he also seems to have an eye for the great undervalued character actors – for example his work with Keith David and Louis Mandylor. Here it’s not only Zane, but Kim Coates (THE LAST BOY SCOUT, INNOCENT BLOOD) as sort of a familiar for the aliens, a willing human servant. He plays him as kind of a nervous, creepy pervert who peeps on Isis in the alien healing shower and does not seem trustworthy around Julie. But then again, most men don’t.
This is Movie World, where it’s still normal to hitchhike, and if a young girl stands in a sexy pose with her thumb up some horndog in a Jeep or semi will appear out of thin air. But the movie also turns that on its head when Julie waves down a redneck truck driver (John Tench, who’d worked with Dacascos playing T-Bird on two episodes of The Crow: Stairway To Heaven), hiding that a man is gonna get in the cab along with her. The driver seems destined to be an ugly cliche, but turns out to be surprisingly nice. I like how enthusiastic he is about introducing them to his favorite place to eat prime ribs. I felt bad that they were planning to betray him by stealing his truck, so it’s almost a relief that it gets blown up before they get a chance to.
I’m not sure how young Julie is supposed to be – old enough to work as a waitress, but young enough that an aunt and uncle took her in when she was recently orphaned. So it feels a little gross when the movie has her fake seduce a guy to steal his car, and when she asks Rykker to “make love” to her, claiming they’re both going to die anyway. He repeatedly turns her down, but lets her sleep with her face against his bare chest. But that might be considered less intimate on his planet. Even before this she feels she has no friends, family or plans, and therefore wants to go back to his planet with him. He says the portal won’t work for humans. I think he’s being honest, but who knows? It’s a pretty great excuse.
It’s kind of corny when Julie and Isis talk jealously about Rykker. Julie tries to shame Isis for breaking up with him:
“Too bad. You lost someone very special.”
And Isis says, “You’re lucky you got to spend time with one of the greatest warriors of our world,” which is what all men dream their exes say about them.
Rykker is a little like Julie’s E.T. in that he comes to her during a time of family turmoil, runs from the authorities with her and heals a cut on her hand. We also get the E.T. ending where she has to accept that he’s leaving and say goodbye to him. But this one is different because she grabs and kisses her E.T., which I don’t remember Elliot doing. Also it turns out that he didn’t get to leave and is secretly still on Earth hunting down other aliens, which in my opinion would be out of character for the original E.T.
The epilogue kinda reminds me of movies like BLADE where it’s all resolved and then there’s a little bit at the end to show that the fight goes on. To its credit it’s the rare version of this scene that has a full-on fight (including sword vs. pipe duel), not just a cut to the credits.
There’s generally more action than I’d expect in a SyFy movie. Isis dives gracefully off a bridge (green screen, but I like it) and occasionally busts out a cool chain whip, perhaps a meaningful tool in her culture. Many bullets are fired, several vehicles are exploded. One of my favorite parts is when Rykker and Julie get tracked to a hotel. When the bad guy troops swarmed his door like a SWAT team, slowly reaching to try to turn the knob, I wondered if the subsequent scene could possibly compare to the great hotel room fight Dacascos had in DRIVE. But suddenly Rykker nullifies that question by bursting through the wall, into the hallway, like fuckin Kool-Aid Man.
So maybe I was wrong about them not having super strength. He then gets shot and flies backward, busting through another wall. For the hotel’s sake I hope they did an authorization on his credit card.
One of the aliens who gets to fight a bunch is Sartek, played by Dominiquie Vandenberg, a Belgian martial artist with a classic bad guy henchman face that can be seen in BARB WIRE, INLAND EMPIRE, GANGS OF NEW YORK (for which he also trained and choreographed Leonardo DiCaprio in old school knife fighting techniques), TRUE LEGEND, and this weird Timex commercial directed by Tim Burton:
His bio says he was in the French Foreign Legion Special Forces before competing in Muay Thai in Burma and Thailand. But more importantly he’s worked with Johnson since they did stunts together on MORTAL KOMBAT, starring in the short DEATH ROW THE TOURNAMENT and early features THE DOORMAN, THE HONORABLE (possibly the same movie?) and PIT FIGHTER, as well as appearing in later Johnson movies THE HITMEN DIARIES: CHARLIE VALENTINE, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS 2, THE BUTCHER and TRIPLE THREAT. He’ll also be playing the title character in Johnson’s upcoming LEGION MAXX, which he created for a comic book. So we’ll be seeing more of him. (Here’s a good interview on ScreenAnarchy.)
Despite a respectable amount of mayhem throughout, ALIEN AGENT never really matches its opening battle, an extensive car chase and shoot out with some great stunts on top of moving vehicles that culminates in a fight between Dacascos and the late, great Darren Shahlavi, who had not yet caught my eye playing Twister in IP MAN 2 (and who would work with Johnson again on THE PACKAGE).
Unsurprisingly Dacascos is most exciting when he’s fighting or looking grim with some blood splattered on his face, but I like his oddly careful enunciation and slightly off-kilter speech patterns. If I hadn’t seen other, earlier Dacascos performances I might mistake it for stiffness, but I think it’s his way of showing that this guy can’t quite grasp how to be an earthling. And it seems that was his solution to a difficult filmmaking challenge. In an interview on, uh, something called “outlawvern.com,” Johnson told david j. moore that he wasn’t allowed to change a word of dialogue from Vlady Pildysh (HEARTSTOPPER, THE FRANKENSTEIN THEORY)’s script:
“There’s way too much dialogue in it. You don’t need action stars talking about their inner self. Especially with someone who’s as good an actor as Mark Dacascos is. He can do that page of dialogue with a look over and a look back, and the audience feels it. We had a very overwritten script in terms of dialogue. The producer on set literally made sure that all of the dialogue was being said as it was written. If we deviated from that, there were glances and ‘Well, this isn’t what you were signed on for…’ I rewrote the action, and I think we had some fun action in it. But action without story is nothing. It’s pornography. It’s action for the sake of action; it’s the worst thing in the whole world.”
I wouldn’t say ALIEN AGENT is the worst thing in the world, even if it’s nowhere near the best. It’s a decent Saturday afternoon matinee and a stepping stone for Johnson. Two years later he directed THE BUTCHER starring Eric Roberts, which he said in the same interview was his first personal film. And he’s been getting better ever since.
In that time, Dacascos has made his directing debut (SHOWDOWN IN MANILA) and some other DTV movies that I’m going to have to check out (ULTIMATE JUSTICE, MAXIMUM IMPACT), but he’s found the most work in a wide range of action-heavy genre television spanning the Chinese series The Legend of Bruce Lee to Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight (discussed in the DRIVE review) to 11 episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and 16 of Hawaii Five-0. He’ll also be on the highly anticipated Netflix series Wu Assassins. But of course we want to see someone of his skills and achievements get the opportunity to shine on the big screen, and there could hardly be a more deserving guy to be spotlighted as the villain in JOHN WICK 3, which I’m excited to see tonight and review soon.
Thank you for joining me to explore and celebrate a small slice of the Dacascos filmography this week. I appreciate all your suggestions for other ones to watch and review in the future. If you’re just getting started on his movies, I highly recommend tracking down the director’s cut of DRIVE, the elusive manga adaptation CRYING FREEMAN, and the teaching-capoeira-to-troubled-teens classic ONLY THE STRONG.
*my review of that one is pretty negative and condescending but makes the movie sound amazing, and I thought I remembered liking it, so I’m gonna have to revisit it