Monday, September 24, 2012

Red Scorpion (1988)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles's computer.

Cool, calculating, and ruthless, Nikolai Rachenko (Dolph Lundgren) is the perfect stereotypical Soviet soldier. He is sent into an unnamed African country where Soviet and Cuban forces are gaining control of the country, with the mission to assassinate a well-respected rebel leader. After spending time with the revolutionary forces he sees the awful tactics employed by the Soviets on the area's native peoples, and eventually his walkabout-eque experience with a Bushmen tribe encourages him to turn against his own government. WITH A SHIT TON OF GUNS.

Ok so my love affair with Jean-Claude Van Damme is being chased by a follow-up crush on Dolph Lundgren, who I've seen in fewer films. Red Scorpion sounded awesome because it was described to me as Super Soviet Dolph going into Africa and leading them in a violent revolt against his asshole superiors. That's basically what happens, but not at all in the way I imagined. For what seemed like an insensitive, explody action movie, there's a lot of chill hanging out to fill out the story, with Dolph's terse Nikolai quietly observing those around him, supposedly coldly plotting his next move. Most of the time I was uncertain of his intentions (as were most of the characters around him), which gives the film an overall suspense as the audience wonders when and how Dolph will shed his brainwashing. Admittedly, the story is highly manipulative since this was made during the Cold War, but I can't pretend I didn't expect that. There is a degree of nuance applied to many of the characters and situations, which made it an interesting drama at several points. I believe most of the non-white actors were local (this was filmed, controversially, in Namibia- then part of South Africa), and their characters don't sink fully into the racial stereotypes common in the 80s (and now).

I've gotta say, this movie has a LOT to offer. I mean, Dolph spends a bulk of the running time shirtless and sweaty, with his adorable little front-mohawk hairdo and eventually, SUPER SHORT CUTOFFS. Fantastic. And at one point he, like, lifts up a jeep with his bare hands. Because he's Dolph Fucking Lundgren, a HOUSE of a man. There is also an array of lovely desert landscapes, a friendly Bushmen tribe playing themselves (at least, according to imdb trivia), and a number of exciting action scenes. I dug the car chase when they're busting out of Soviet Jail and of course the final ambush at the end. Exciting stuff.

Red Scorpion is totally not what I expected, but that's not a bad thing. It's quieter and slower than advertised. Though at first I kept thinking, "Why isn't Dolph punching everyone at any given moment?", I ended up appreciating the more dramatic aspects and more serious treatment of the material. I'm not saying it's especially realistic or grounded, but it does manage to be surprisingly thoughtful and understated at several points. I guess I just liked it, in general.


Pair This Movie With: The more dramatic, introspective aspects made me think of First Blood.


  1. Dolph Lungren appears to be one of those actors with great talent but who is always stuck with poor scripts! Red Scorpion is one of his best movies because he plays upon his strengths and intellectual capacity.