This High-Camp hoot of a horror film is so shamelessly dumb, derivative and over the top that it defies any standard of critical judgment. It's like The Phantom of the Opera directed by the Marx Brothers. Actually, Sam Raimi -- wearing three hats as director, coproducer and co-writer -- gets the credit or debit, depending on your tolerance for this sort of nonsense. Because Raimi's early low-budget shockers (The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II) have spawned an avid cult, there should be plenty of curiosity about his first mainstream effort.
The fine Irish actor Liam Neeson (The Good Mother) stars as Dr. Peyton Westlake, a scientist on the verge of marrying his attorney girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand), and making a breakthrough in creating synthetic skin, which might revolutionize reconstructive surgery. Before long, the doc is making use of his own invention. A vicious gang, led by the evil Durant (Larry Drake, the retarded Benny of TV's L.A. Law, in a change-of-pace dramatic role), breaks into Westlake's lab and beats, tortures and burns the doc. The hoods are looking for a document that might implicate Julie's tycoon client Strack (Colin Friels) in a construction scam. Left for dead, the doc rises to become something else: "I'm everyone and no one, everything and nothing," he says. "Call me Darkman."
The plot, a gloss on every movie freak show from House of Wax to The Fly, lets Raimi go ballistic with special effects; he brings off several whoppers, including a scene in which Darkman dangles from the ladder of Durant's helicopter as it swings across the city, trying to shake him loose. This leaves the actors emoting wildly just to keep up with the stunts. It's a losing battle. But Raimi's live-action comic book aims to deliver scares spiked with laughs. That it does.