Screenshots were taken from the DVD
the '80s... When men were men, women had big hair and everyone
knew that communism was an evil force dedicated to the utter destruction
of the western world. Those were simpler times. Well, not really
— but a lot of action movies made at the time liked to pretend
that they were, depicting square-jawed American heroes locked
in combat with various communist villains in an ideological struggle
for the fate of the world. Produced in the same decade that gave
us patriotic Cold War thrillers like Red
Dawn, Red Heat and other movies
with the word "red" in them, Red Scorpion
has a more interesting production history than most '80s action
movies. For starters, the movie was written and produced by Jack
Abramoff (yes, that Jack Abramoff, the infamous political
lobbyist who ended up going to jail for corruption) and apparently
received partial funding from a right wing organization with ties
to the Apartheid government in South Africa! Despite its somewhat
shady credentials, Red Scorpion stands
today as a jingoistic but essentially harmless bit of silly action
movie fun that is very much a product of its time.
Nikolai Rachenko (Dolph Lundgren), a Russian Special Forces or
"Spetznaz" commando, is contacted by his superiors for an important
mission: They want him to infiltrate a rebel anti-communist force
in an unspecified African country and eliminate their charismatic
leader, Ango Sundata (Ruben Nthodi). Sundata's right-hand man,
Kallunda Kintash (Al White), has been captured and is being held
prisoner at a base staffed by Soviet, Cuban and Czechoslovakian
troops, and Nikolai is sent there as an advisor. Shortly after
arriving, Nikolai drunkenly causes a brawl and gets thrown in
the same cell as Kintash. Soon after they're joined by American
journalist Dewey Ferguson (veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh),
a freedom-lovin', commie-hatin' SOB who loves listening to Little
Richard and can't stand to be in the same cell as a stinkin' pinko
commie bastard like Nikolai! During a visit from the sadistic
Krasnov (Brion James), Nikolai helps them to escape, and after
fighting their way across the African desert (apparently Nikolai's
commanding officers don't mind him killing dozens of their own
men and destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment as long
as he gets rid of Sundata!) he manages to gain Kintash's trust.
Nikolai is taken to see Sundata, but the rebel leader sees right
through him and thwarts his assassination attempt. While being
tortured by his communist superiors for his failure, he manages
to escape back into the desert but is stung by several scorpions
and seems doomed to die. Saved by a friendly bushman, Nikolai
begins to wonder whether he has been fighting for the right side,
and after seeing the aftermath of a brutal massacre of the bushman's
village, he finally knows what he must do: Kick some commie ass!
was made in 1988, when the Soviet Union was beginning to withdraw
its forces from Afghanistan and shares a lot in common with big,
dumb explosion-fests like Rambo III,
which had another beefy hero helping rebel forces fight against
their Soviet oppressors. Red Scorpion
puts a bit of a twist on the genre by having a Soviet soldier
as the hero, but other than that, there's not a whole lot that
makes it stand out from numerous other action movies of the time.
My biggest problem with Red Scorpion
stems from the fact that I've never been the biggest Dolph Lundgren
fan. While his imposing physique and steely gaze can make him
an effective villain, like when he played another super-Russian,
boxer Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV, I've
always found him a bit bland as a protagonist. His perpetually
stone-faced expression and monotone voice have none of the character
and humor that helped Arnold Schwarzenegger stand out from his
muscle-bound '80s action movie peers, and as a result, whenever
Lundgren's onscreen and not blowing something up, the movie grinds
to a bit of a halt. Supporting players Walsh and James help to
pick up some of the slack with their suitably energetic and over-the-top
performances, although oddly, James' character just disappears
partway through the movie despite seemingly being set up as a
major villain. You don't tease a climactic Dolph Lundgren/Brion
James fight scene and then not deliver, people!
the plus side, the film manages to use its modest budget well,
using actual Russian-made military equipment and shooting on location
in Africa. It also features some great gore effects by the legendary
Tom Savini; the scene where Lundgren is tortured with needles
being particularly effective.
Red Scorpion is a competently made
but ultimately pretty unremarkable time capsule that should please
Lundgren fans and those that long for the good old days when the
U.S.S.R. provided American action movies with a reliable villain.
Others will probably find it dated and a bit slow.
arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Synapse Films in a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD
combo pack, the Blu-ray's 1080p transfer presented in an aspect
ratio of 1.78:1. Colors, detail and depth are all strong, and
while there is a bit of grain present, it's nothing that detracts
from the overall presentation of the movie. Audio
is available in both DTS-HD 5.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 stereo, with optional
English subtitles for the hearing impaired. Sound quality is generally
good for both tracks, with the 5.1 track offering slightly more
immersion with the Surround channels.
include separate video interviews with Lundgren, Abramoff and
Savini regarding their involvement with the film, and in Lundgren's
case, his early career and even his relationship with Grace Jones!
Savini also provides ten minutes of on-set footage which is interesting
but doesn't offer a whole lot of insight into the film's production.
Joseph Zito and Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson provide
an audio commentary track which packs in a ton of info on the
film, including some of the political controversy that surrounded
its production. There's also the usual assortment of trailers,
TV spots and a stills gallery, and just like with Synapse's release
of Thou Shalt Not Kill...
Except, the reversible cover art is a great touch.