Science fiction stories about tiny protagonists have been around for quite some time; Universal Pictures adapted Richard Matheson’s story of a man shrunken due to exposure to a radioactive cloud into the classic film The Incredible Shrinking Man and, of course, Disney’s popular Honey I Shrunk the Kids dealt with the classic idea of a scientist and his shrinking ray, but it was the late 60s television show Land of the Giants, created by legendary producer Irwin Allen, that dealt with a small group of space travellers who found themselves dragged through a space warp and onto a world of giants, that is the closest inspiration I can find to Charles Band’s cinematic “masterpiece” Dollman.
If you are unaware of the name Charles Band and his production company Full Moon Entertainment — which introduced such classics to the world as the Puppet Master and Trancer franchises — you have probably led a more sedate and sheltered cinematic life than my own, for Band and company were mostly known for producing low budget exploitation flicks, with lots of gore and nudity, while not worrying so much about the creation of nuanced characters or substantive stories. It is with the film Dollman, whose title character was played by the great Tim Thomerson — who also played the lead hero in the Trancer films — that Charles Band clearly wanted to start another franchise with his 13-inch Dirty Harry. She, this was not to be, aside from a cameo in the 1992 film Bad Channels, and crossover sequel Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, this idea was pretty much doomed from the beginning, for as cool as a concept of a pint-sized super cop was, these classy filmmakers had neither the skills nor the budget to effectively pull it off. Someone should have pointed out to them that if your effects work is worse than what we’ve seen on a television show made back in the 60s, then maybe you need to rethink your premise.
The premise of Dollman is fairly simple; we’ve got badass hero Brick Bardo (Tim Thomerson), who tries to keep the streets clean on planet Arturos from all the scum and villainy, and Bardo is basically your standard cliché cop — suspended from the force and prone to blowing away villains rather than arresting them — and when he attempts to chase down his greatest enemy Sprug (Frank Collison) (who due to numerous violent encounters with Bardo is now just a floating head), they end up in a brief space chase where he and Sprug fly their respective spaceships through a strange energy band, which sends them to Earth. Unfortunately, for these two on “our” Earth” everything is larger by a six-to-one ratio. Bardo crash-lands in the South Bronx, in a territory run by gang leader Braxton Red (Jackie Earle Haley), and his first encounter is with gang members who aren’t too fond of Neighbourhood Watch leader Debi Alejandro (Kamala Lopez), and so Bardo must step in and save the day.
Aside from the “shrunken hero” aspect of Dollman, there isn’t an ounce of originality to be found in its short eighty-minute run-time; we have Deb as the noble Hispanic mother, who wants to keep her young son (Humberto Ortiz) from joining one of the local gangs, and she gets no help from police Captain Shuller (Eugene Robert Glazer), who is more interested in getting sound bites than actually cleaning up poor neighbourhoods. This could easily be one of the crappy Deathwish sequels, with Tim Thomerson stepping in for Charles Bronson by way of Dirty Harry, because the whole aspect of him being a thirteen-inch cop with a gun doesn’t really add much to the story. For most of the film’s run-time he and his ship just sit on Deb’s kitchen table, where neighbours pop in to occasionally gawk at him, and none of the film’s shootouts would have been any different if he’d been a full-sized cop — well other than him being a slightly smaller target to shoot at — but these gangbangers are so bad at their jobs, they probably would have missed him even if he was eight feet tall and stationary.
About the only interesting element of this film was the hinted-at relationship between Braxton and Deb, that he had in the past ordered his men to leave her alone — even though she is a thorn in the side of his organization — but we never find out exactly why this was the case. Did they grow up together as friends but then drifted apart when he joined a gang? The film doesn’t have time to explore this kind of thing, too much random violence to fit in, which is a shame because the only standout performance in this film was the one given by Jackie Earl Haley. He is given a brief villain monologue at the end of the film, one that hints at him being an actual flesh and blood character, but then he blows himself up, so let’s not worry about that.
It’s obvious that director Albert Pyun had virtually no budget to work with, as for the most part the “cop in a land of giants” premise is handled by either long POV sheets of Brick Bardo running through rubble or him standing in front of rubble — this version of the Bronx consists mostly of rubble — all because they had no money to build scale sets or props. The film also seemed uninterested in dealing with how a thirteen-inch dude could take on a gang of street thugs in any creative capacity whatsoever, as he mostly just shoots them with his hand cannon — which on his world pretty much explodes people while on Earth it just makes fist-sized holes in people — so not much different than any other cop vs. thug scene in any generic action film. The one time they try to do something different — with thirteen inch Bardo sneaking up on a gang member — they completely fuck it up, because they have Bardo knock a guy out with a long pipe … well, long if you’re thirteen inches high, but when used against a regular-sized dude, it’d be like hitting somebody across the head with a knitting needle, which is not going to knock someone out.
Is Brick Bardo supposed to be made of denser matter, and that’s why he is able to hit people with the proportionate strength of a regular-sized person, like Marvel’s Ant Man? If Charles Band and Albert Pyun had bothered to put more than ten seconds of thought into this film’s science fiction premise I’d be very much surprised because the one scene where he sneaks through a small drainage pipe is the only moment where he kind of utilizes being tiny … oh, he does hang onto the gang’s car door so that he can follow them to where they have Deb held hostage, so I guess that’s two times he exploits the advantage of being small, but even the scene in the drainpipe is a big disappointment. He encounters a rat, but instead of a cool “man against rat” fight, the rodent just scurries away, probably to audition for the remake of Willard.
There’s not much fun or substance for even the most forgiving of genre fans to focus on, and aside from Jackie Earl Haley’s performance, and whatever enjoyment you can get out of Tim Thomerson’s Dirty Harry impression, Dollman is a lost effort, for as a whole, the film is fairly predictable and forgettable.
• On the planet Arturos we hear a news report that seems to be framing Brick Bardo for the death of a bunch of hostages when in reality he saved them all, but this idea of corrupt media is never addressed again as we never come back to this planet.
• Deb is able to pick up Brick Bardo’s ship as if it weighed about as much as an actual toy. So is his ship made out of some super-light polymer material?
• The villainous Sprug is found by Braxton’s gang and he offers them his “dimensional fusion bomb” if they help him get home, but he also tells him that this particular device has a ten-second fuse and that everything within three parsecs will be sent to another dimension, forever. Now, I’m sure that these idiot gangbangers don’t know that a parsec is a unit of length used to measure astronomically large distances between objects beyond our Solar System — which certainly wouldn’t leave much of South Bronx, or Earth for that matter if that thing went off — but even taking into account their lack of “scientific knowledge,” who would want a bomb with only a ten-second timer? Doesn’t seem very safe to me.
• When this apparent “dimensional fusion bomb” does go off, detonated by a dying Braxton, all we get is a very bright light. No real explosion, and certainly nothing disappearing into another dimension, and our heroes are definitely standing closer than three parsecs away.
At its heart, Dollman is just a cheapy sci-fi action flick, one laden with gore and “F” bombs to titillate teenagers, but if a viewer goes in expecting more, then that viewer may find themselves briefly entertained, I myself found writer/producer Charles Band to be guilty of wasting a clever premise, as well as Jackie Earl Haley’s performance, in a movie that barely crawls out of the gutter long enough to get your attention. There are certainly worse examples of the genre and even worse outings by Full Moon Entertainment, but Dollman doesn’t even fall into the category of “So bad it’s good.”
Note: The planet Arturos consists mostly of rubble, which funnily enough looks a lot like the South Bronx we later visit, and matte paintings borrowed from the television series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
In a film that could have been an interesting cross between Dirty Harry and Land of the Giants, all we got was a generic action film guilty of squandering its science fiction premise.