Liam's dark nights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 1994, 12:00am

IF you are in search of a break from Arnold Schwarzenneger - and who isn't - try Liam Neeson in Darkman (World, 9.30pm). This is a deliriously energetic comic-book movie from Sam Raimi, the young mastermind behind the uproariously funny and gory Evil Dead movies.

Raimi arrived in Hollywood as recently as 1990 to make this ambitious and hallucinatory adventure. It had a relatively low budget but Raimi infuses it with the kind of manic cinematic virtuosity that Batman was so badly lacking. One critic referred to Darkman as a 30s horror film on LSD.

Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a scientist working on a formula for artificial skin. His big problem is that the pseudo-skin just doesn't last long enough. After 99 minutes the cells decompose and turn into a bubbling goo. During a power failure, however, Peyton discovers that the skin lives much longer in the dark.

To cut a short story even shorter - Darkman is 96 minutes and it is a shame it isn't longer - Peyton's girlfriend (Frances McDormand) uncovers some illegal goings-on involving a megalomanic property developer (Colin Friels), whose henchman is played by Robert G. Durant, otherwise known as L.A. Law's Larry Drake. There is a nasty accident and Peyton is presumed dead, but is secretly saved by an odd doctor who nurses him back to health. The doctor is Jenny Agutter, in an unbilled role. One of her assistants is played by film director John Landis.

Agutter tries out a radical new therapy on her patient, severing some of his nerves to prevent the pain messages from his burns reaching his brain. The unanticipated and unfortunate side-effect is that Peyton becomes a raving, superhuman madman. He escapes, returns to his destroyed lab, and begins to plot his revenge.

There is little about Darkman that is conventional, but it boasts the right look and the right sound - thanks to a thundering mock operatic score from Batman composer Danny Elfman. Neeson makes an excellent flawed hero - better than he was in Schindler's List - and the movie's general eccentricities turn it into compulsive viewing.

ARNIE, of course, would never play anyone with deficiencies. He would certainly not play a man with bad skin. His role is that of a conventional wild-west hero - the same role he plays in Commando (Pearl, 9.30pm).

He is ''intelligent, cool under pressure, physically imposing, an expert in the use of martial arts and combat weaponry'' (the publicist's words, not mine). He is Colonel John Matrix, former leader of a special operations taskforce assigned to political hot spots around the globe.

But now Matrix is retired and living a quiet life under a new identity with his daughter. Until she is kidnapped by vengeful goons working for a South American dictator who Matrix helped topple from power.

Commando is for indiscriminating action fans. It toys with humour, but the laughs are obliterated by the obligatory quota of silly violence. Arnie's love interest and unexpected ally is an air hostess named Cindy, played by Rae Dawn Chong.

IN Carrott's Commercial Breakdown (Pearl, 8.30pm), British comedian Jasper Carrott sets out to prove that the commercials are often better than the programmes that interrupt them. He casts his eye over commercials from 18 countries, some of which go back 30 years, to an innocent age when television was in black and white and Arnie was in nappies.

THERE are two films for insomniacs, but neither is worth having a sleepless night over. Maybe Baby (World, 12.55pm) was on not so long ago. It stars Jane Curtin as a woman who has everything except a baby.

In The Haunting Of Sarah Hardy (Pearl, 12.40pm) a young heiress (Sela Ward) is woken in the night by the sound of her dead mother playing her harpsichord. She is playing the same sonata she played the night she went out and got herself drowned. Morgan Fairchild also stars.

THE 1976 thriller Lipstick (STAR Plus, 4.30am) marked Mariel Hemingway's feature debut but is otherwise notable for nothing at all. She plays a beautiful model who is brutally raped and is forced to take justice into her own hands. The cast is good (Anne Bancroft, Margaux Hemingway and Chris Sarandon) but the film itself is instantly forgettable. It bombed and is even difficult to find on video.