I’m delighted to once again review a film by prolific filmmaker Albert Pyun. Today, it’s the Full Moon Features presentation of Dollman. This is a low-budget, sci-fi, action, thriller about a doll-sized alien-humanoid disgraced cop. ’nuff said.
Our film opens on the other side of the galaxy on the planet of Arturos. Renegade cop Brick Bardo (Tim Thomerson) is having a bad day, and all he wants to do is his laundry. But his local laundromat is engaged in a hostage situation, which Bardo quickly solves with his powerful “Kruger Weapon,” along with a willingness to shoot through the hostages to kill the gunman. Bardo saves the hostages (with thankfully low casualties), but his violent methods get him suspended. However, the dejected Bardo is soon kidnapped by his arch-nemesis Spurg (Frank Collison), who is now simply a head with no body — thanks to Bardo.
In a showdown between the two, Bardo and Spurg are flung across the universe through a dimensional portal. Now on Earth, Bardo finds he’s now only 13 inches tall. If landing on Earth wasn’t terrible enough, Bardo lands in the Bronx, where its citizens are terrorized by Braxton Red (Jackie Earle Haley) and his goons. After rescuing single-mother Debi (Kamala Lopez), she picks up Bardo and his ship and gives them to her son for safekeeping. Meanwhile, Braxton hooks up with Spurg, who convinces him to use his “dimensional fusion bomb.”
Let’s get right to the problem. There’s a great idea here that’s right up Full Moon Features’ alley: a doll-sized badass kicking a*s! But great ideas can’t work without great execution. Mind you, Dollman came out in 1991, so for low-budget indie filmmakers creating the illusion of size for Pyun means extensive use of forced perspective, oversized/undersized props, and surprisingly very little green-screen.
“…flung across the universe through a dimensional portal. Now on Earth, Bardo finds he’s now only 13 inches tall.”
The entire film hinges on pulling off the idea of a doll-sized man taking down the big bad akin to David in a world of Goliaths. Unfortunately, the filmmaker relies almost entirely on forced perspective. Most of the battles take place on a building demolition site, and, as Bardo, Tim Thomerson is shot from above to give the appearance of being small. The problem is the rocks and broken cinderblocks surrounding him are not appropriately scaled.
Speaking of David and Goliath, Bardo would be nowhere without the Kruger Weapon, which is essentially a tiny handgun with the power of a shotgun. It is his only real offense… because Bardo is only 13 inches tall! So his street-smart wit, mean disposition, and weapon of ultimate power are all he has as a character, which isn’t enough.
What Dollman needed to succeed in its gimmick are more convincers. Moments to remind us that Bardo is a small man in a big world and an ending that says only a small man could have saved the day because he’s small and not because he has a bigger (more powerful) weapon. We never see a moment when we’re looking over the shoulder of Bardo with his gun pointed up at his target.
Instead, practically all of his interactions are a series of cut scenes looking down a Bardo and up at everyone else. Thomerson is great as Bardo, but he plays him as a normal-sized vigilante, and we need those moments when being small is an obstacle that must be overcome. By playing Bardo as if he was normal-sized, it begs the question, why have the gimmick at all — which is the question I have in the end.
That said, Dollman still has all the violence, gore, and fun that comes from a Full Moon feature but could have used the low-budget props and puppets we’ve seen in Weedjies, Demonic Toys, and Baby Oopsie. I’d recommend those before this, but this isn’t too bad.
"…has all the violence, gore, and fun that comes from a Full Moon feature..."