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The One-Line Summary: Scientist Payton Westlake (Liam Neeson) develops an artificial skin that degrades after 99 minutes in light but sustains in darkness, and soon finds a use for it when corrupt land developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels) gives Payton’s girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), documents that prove shady dealings, sending mobster Robert Durant (Larry Drake) to the lab to burn the place, leaving Westlake disfigured and unidentified at a hospital where he receives experimental treatments that heighten his strength and numbs all pain, allowing him to escape and gather his equipment to create a new identity to seek revenge on those that tried to destroy him.
The Two-Line Blurb: Written and directed by Sam Raimi, this off-beat superhero film is a frenetic, wildly-stylized action movie that serves like an audition tape for Raimi to take on the Spider-Man franchise a decade later. Full of imaginative set pieces and a unique acting turn by Neeson, who goes just to the edge but stops short to pull off an engrossing, emotional performance that is both sympathetic and totally badass.
The Three-Line Set-up: After Westlake rebuilds his lab in a secret location, he uses his experiments to create a mask of his former self but also plots revenge, studying Durant and his men, learning their routines and even vocal patterns. He finds he can mimic other people and uses this to infiltrate the mobster’s clan. Meanwhile, he visits Julie and explains that he has been in a coma all this time and can only be outside for short times as he is still in physical therapy, which is a way to keep him safely on the 99-minute clock. He arranges to meet her at a local fair and rejoices in being with her again.
The Four-Line Moment: Westlake is on a timer and wants to be sure to maximize time spent with Julie, deciding to win her a stuffed animal at the Milk Bottle game. When he successfully knocks the surely-rigged bottles over, the barker refuses to pay up, claiming Payton was over the line when he tossed the ball. Westlake, his emotional and sensory feedback blunted by the treatment which cut the nerves that signal pain, becomes enraged and crushes the barker’s fingers and tosses him through the tent wall while Payton’s face begins to bubble as the artificial skin deteriorates. He runs off, abandoning Julie as she gives chase in a moment that reveals the limitations and hurdles Darkman must overcome.
The Five-Word Review: This series needs a reboot.