Darkman When attorney Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) uncovers corrupt city real estate dealings, evil thugs attack her scientist boyfriend, Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson). Left for dead after his lab is detonated, he miraculously survives but at a city hospital is unknowingly submitted to radical therapy that numbs his nerves to feeling--but heightens his strength and his emotions. Horribly burned and scarred, he uses synthetic skin to impersonate his would-be murderers and seek retribution for their evil deeds. While the film has an average script, it is overcome by the flashy cinematography of Bill Pope, the bombastic score by Danny Elfman, and the well-choreographed direction of Sam Raimi. The director confidently walks the line between suspense, action, comedy, and romance as he examines a bitter, victimized antihero who risks becoming as monstrous on the inside as he appears on the outside. --Bryan Reesman Darkman II Sam Raimi created Darkman with a potential franchise in mind, and his original movie had enough flair to suggest a sequel was warranted. Unfortunately (or perhaps wisely--for Raimi), he handed over the straight-to-video sequel duties to rookie director Bradford May, and nobody bothered to come up with much of a screenplay. As a result, Darkman II plays like a bad pilot for a proposed Darkman TV series, with Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) doing his best to replace Liam Neeson in the title role. Sporting a dastardly scar and delivering lackluster punch lines as he kills his many enemies, Larry Drake returns from the first film as the villainous Durant, who wreaks havoc in his attempt to finance and manufacture the world's most destructive automatic weapons. As he supports the synthetic skin experiments of a like-minded scientist, the scarred hero known as Darkman thwarts Durant's ruthless plot, but the case proves costly for the intrepid crime reporter (Kim Delaney, pre-NYPD Blue) who allies herself with Darkman's efforts. Basically, this by-the-numbers plot serves as a tissue-thin vehicle for lots of explosions and gratuitous violence, and it's all about as inspired as a bad syndicated action show. Of interest only to those who were dazzled by the original Darkman, and even then it's a disappointment. --Jeff Shannon
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