Saturday, June 21, 2008

Assault on Dome 4 (Starring Bruce Campbell)

I’m not the first wayward student of the geek arts to proclaim Bruce Campbell a genius. And I won’t be the last, I assure you. His screen presence mesmerises all who bear witness to it, engendering an outpouring of enthusiastic praise across all creeds and colours, sparking words like god and icon. The self-deprecating sense of humour, the good nature with which he approaches the worshipping fans, the general diligence that propels his career, these are the traits that place him atop the B-movie roster. He enlivens the most dire and plodding of films with but a mere stroke of the chin, setting afire spectatorial glands by way of fleeting cameos and brash one-liners.

Any film fortunate enough to carry the credit ‘Bruce Campbell’ can be expected to offer at least a moment’s grace, even if the rest leaves much to be desired. The pantheon of characters spun from Bruce Campbell’s fecund acting talents is both rich and blinding – a prolific and consistent set of filmic highlights: characters who distract from shoddiness, who ameliorate the woeful, raising the mediocre to exalted heights, turning shite into gold.

Take, for instance, Terminal Invasion. A group of people are stuck at an airport, snowed-in by the weather outside. One of the group is an alien, a vicious sort intent on making internal organs external. Cue tension as they endeavour to find out who is human and who isn’t. All standard fare, typical Sci-Fi Channel output. But throw in Bruce Campbell as a heroic convict and a substandard version of The Thing becomes a piece of art, a ninety minute barrage of Bruce fighting both aliens and the distrust of other characters. This Jack, a cipher for the Bruce Campbell persona, is a typical example of how films are suddenly bettered by a smattering of Bruce.

Through the mire of bit-parts – like his appearance at the start of Congo or his appearance at the end of Darkman – and the larger roles – his turn in Running Time or Bubba Ho-tep’s fine performance – it’s easy to ascertain a pattern. The diamond in the rough, the light punctuating the dark, Bruce consistently brings a smile to the lips and a shot of glee to the head. Whilst I am one to wax hyperbolic on the B-movie individual, forever inclined to celebrate the star’s very essence, Bruce’s appeal stretches considerably further than the peculiarity of Jeffrey Combs or the teeth of Gary Busey. Bruce is the most universally loved of Made for TV and Straight to Video’s thespian faces – he rules deservedly at the pinnacle of low budget heaven.

In Assault on Dome 4 (aka Chase Moran), Bruce repeats his past and future feats of cinematic salvage. He plays Alex Windham, a vicious master-criminal who breaks out of prison and takes control of a scientific research facility by the name of Dome 4. “Die Hard on a space station” is how Bruce describes the flick in If Chins Could Kill. He’s clearly correct to do so. Just before Windham and his cronies take over the compound and terrorise its inhabitants, the film’s hero, the rather lame space cop Chase Moran, arrives to visit his wife. The villains assume control before he can reach the wife and he must fight to rescue her and the hostages, taking out henchmen one by one and irritating Windham by sneaking stealthily around the dome.

As befitting the situation, Bruce hams it up greatly as Windham, creating a wonderfully caricatured image of criminality. We are introduced to him as he is being imprisoned within a high-security jail, lamenting to the warden that he is a misunderstood artist whose work of galactic terror goes unappreciated, undervalued by those minds too small to fathom his grandeur. He’s later featured quoting Shakespeare and Julius Caesar, mixing a lofty, aristocratic mentality with torture and bloodshed. Windham harbours the messianic vision of acquiring his own planet, one populated by less evolved humanoids who would worship him as a god. By doing this he’d escape the bland, artless hordes of Earth, creating like a good aesthetician a world of blossoming artistic culture. Bruce has rarely played such an ostentatious fellow and it’s a joy watching him orate in such highfalutin tones.

Beyond the ambit of Bruce Campbell lies an array of other familiar film faces. The mosaic consists of Jack Nance (Pete from Twin Peaks), Brion James (Swayze’s Steel Dawn, Fahey’s The Underground) and Mark Bringleson (a man who has had the good fortune to be marked by the scent of both Lou Diamond Phillips and Jeff Fahey, the former by appearing in The First Power, the latter by playing the villain in the classic Lawnmower Man). It’s a picture tessellated by Bruce, he is the star around which everyone else orbits. Even those not too familiar faces are inclined to follow suit. Joseph Culp’s hero Chase Moran is thankfully an unfamiliar visage, his tired action sequences and abundance of chinless posturing driving the film to pits of quality. His wife, too, is nothing more than an object to be paraded in front of the camera in a series of short skirts and fodder for Bruce to act sleazily. She’s the inverse image of Chase Masterson in Terminal Invasion, for at least ol’ Chase exhibited some heroic virtue and wasn’t mere adornment.

The Die Hard rip-off is an enterprise doomed to failure. Lethal Tender couldn’t transpose Die Hard’s awesome dynamic to a water purification plant, despite the presence of Jeff Fahey. Assault on Dome 4, with its slowed down action shots and vapid protagonist, also fails to emulate the tale of John McClane. But that we know. Obviously this TV Movie is going to be no masterpiece. Where it does get points, morphing into something watchable, is with the inclusion of Bruce Campbell. Again his soaring charisma and endearing spirit turn a film no one would have cared to waste five words on into a film worth a thousand. And maybe, by dint of a sharp imagination, you can watch the film and imagine Bruce had actually played Hans Gruber and was involved in some wondrous concoction known simply as The Battling Bruces.


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