For the first several years and several movies of his filmmaking career, writer/director Kevin S. Tenney worked exclusively in the horror genre, producing both cult classics (Witchboard, Night of the Demons) and a couple lesser-knowns (Witchtrap, The Cellar). For his fifth feature film, Tenney branched out of horror and made a sci-fi action movie.
Watching Peacemaker, it’s hard not to compare it to a sci-fi/action movie that was released just three years earlier, The Hidden. I can’t say whether or not Tenney was familiar with The Hidden when he embarked on making Peacemaker, but the basic stories are the same: two aliens tracking and fighting each other through the Los Angeles area, one a police officer (or peacemaker) on their world, the other a criminal. The primary difference is that the aliens in The Hidden had to take over human bodies to move among us unnoticed, while the aliens in Peacemaker are humanoid to begin with. Of course, replace their outer space origin with the future and you also have The Terminator.
The film begins with a meteorite splashing down in the Pacific Ocean just off the Santa Monica coast. As an alien named Townshend and portrayed by Lance Edwards wades out of the sea, another alien already in the city – the great Robert Forster as Yates – immediately senses his presence and springs into action.
The leather-clad Townshend has a rough introduction to our world. The ill-advised attempt to steal a shotgun from a police cruiser kicks off an extended chase sequence that features the incredibly strong alien fighting both cops and members of a drug gang and ends with him getting shot twenty times.
Townshend’s corpse is taken to the nearest morgue, where assistant medical examiner Dori Caisson (Hilary Shepard) is shocked to see his wounds heal right before her eyes. Townshend rises from the slab and takes Dori hostage so she can help him make his way through our world while he’s still learning and adapting. He’s a bit like a buff Starman… Dori even refers to him as Starman at one point.
They haven’t even made it out of the parking garage when the gun-toting Yates arrives on the scene and starts blasting away at Townshend.
As it turns out, the inhabitants of the world these aliens are from can survive anything and quickly heal from any sort of wound (they call it rejuvenating) as long as their brain is intact. Like a George A. Romero zombie, these aliens can only be killed by destroying their brain. This ability to rejuvenate allows Townshend and Yates to sustain a whole lot of damage as they chase and fight each other throughout the film.
It also enabled Tenney to have the characters perform some great stunts that an average person would find much more difficult to endure… Although the police officers who get caught in the middle of their antics don’t fare much better. Squad cars are smashed up in a variety of ways, a motorcycle cop is thrown from his vehicle and goes sliding down the street.
The moment when a truck goes airborne while speeding over the top of a hill and flies over a character is jaw-dropping.
Townshend claims to be a peacemaker who was chasing down a serial killer, Yates, when their ships were caught in a black hole that dumped them on Earth. When he gets a chance to talk to Dori, Yates make a similar claim. But which one should she trust? She’s very wishy-washy about it. Given the choice, I would side with Robert Forster, because he’s Robert Forster.
If the aliens’ conflict wasn’t enough, they also find themselves faced with a formidable local opponent in the form of Robert Davi as Sergeant Frank Ramos, a cop who has long been trying to get Dori to go out with him.
Peacemaker definitely isn’t an original concept, but it is an entertaining play on a very familiar one. It’s a whole lot of fun to watch, managing to get the viewer invested in the characters and throw twists and turns at them while also devoting as much of its running time as possible to action sequences.
The movie seems to have been fun as far back as the scripting stage; judging by the dialogue, Tenney must have been enjoying himself while writing the screenplay, filling it with jokes and a spattering of laughable tough guy speak. There are some real groaners in there.
Tenney proved to be quite capable at handling action with his first foray into the genre, and Peacemaker is truly an extravaganza of impressive old school stuntwork. That’s the area in which the film truly shines, and the top reason to check it out.
Somehow, the existence of Peacemaker managed to elude me for 24 years. I wish I had seen this movie when it was first released, because I know I would’ve loved it when I was a kid. Guys who can’t be killed surviving multiple gunshot wounds, explosions, and high falls while relentlessly hunting each other down? I would’ve thought this was one of the coolest movies ever made. Even now, watching it at 30, I enjoyed it a great deal, but if I had seen it at 7 I would’ve been totally blown away.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 24 years of lost Peacemaker viewings to make up for.