A dramatic journey through the dreck we all know and love
Written By Zak Attack
Why Did I Watch This?
“Hey, it’s a Dolph Lundgren vehicle I don’t think I’ve ever heard of!”
That’s basically it. Although, I also have an obsessive need to watch anything that’s streaming on Netflix but unavailable through the dvd service. If they lose the rights, I may never see it.
How Did I Watch It?
Off my girlfriend’s iPad… alone. I really need to get some friends to watch these with me.
What Did I Watch?
Dolph Lundgren plays Nikolai, a nearly superhuman Spetsnaz officer stationed in Africa and tasked with befriending a rebel (Al White as Kallunda Kintash) in prison. His mission is to eventually gain the man’s trust and follow him back to his base and assassinate the rebellion’s leader. The story moves at a pretty brisk pace as Nikolai gets in a bar fight to get thrown into prison, breaks out of prison with the trusting Kintash and a loud-mouthed American journalist, gets in a couple scuffles, and eventually meets his target. His previously unwavering loyalty is notably wavered as he befriends the rebels and starts to understand their cause.
Despite the signs that he’s learning why some people might want freedom, he proceeds to carry out his mission and try to assassinate the “bad guy”. Unfortunately for him he is thwarted because, besides Kintash, nobody ever really trusted him in the first place. He is left behind as a statement to the Communist forces not to try any funny business again. The Soviets imprison and torture Nikolai because of his failure, however he escapes and decides to redeem himself by seeking out and completing his mission. If it seems like I’m explaining the whole movie away it is because it’s fairly obvious where the movie’s heading throughout. That much is true in the Wikipedia/IMDb synopses and the official trailer…
Ultimately, due to an epiphany and an experience with some bushmen who brand his chest with a scorpion (hence the title), Nikolai finds himself on the side of the rebels (duh) and kicks some Soviet ass. USA! USA! And this is where the movie really kicks off the action.
Did you know that to support the USSR, Cuba had extensive military presence in Africa in the 80’s? I didn’t, but now I do. And while the country is never specified in this film, it seems to be somewhat inspired by the conflict involving the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola. Who said B-movies can’t be educational?
Character actor M. Emmet Walsh gives a delightfully hammy turn as the brash, mistrusting American journalist. I have never seen him chew up the scenery quite that much and it’s kind of cool to see someone having so much fun every time they’re on camera. Overall, the movie’s fairly self-serious so his moments of levity are much appreciated. There is also a small, but memorable role for Brion James as a henchman.
To stick with the theme of acting, I would go as far and say that Red Scorpion contains Dolph Lundgren’s most nuanced performance. While nobody would argue that is a particularly difficult milestone to obtain, there is something to be said for Nikolai’s loyalty to the Soviet cause being slowly and realistically chipped away at over the film. It makes the delay in his turn to the rebel side all the more gratifying.
There is also a scene where Dolph Lundgren cocks his gun, says “Let’s kick some ass!”, and then it immediately cuts to a truck blowing up and shit generally getting real. That was generally cool.
The worst action moment was a below average chase scene cut to the song “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same song was used in Predator during the helicopter scene. This was then spoofed by the excellent video game Far Cry: Dragon Blood. I guess my issue is that if there is going to be a below average action scene in a film, don’t score it to a song used in one of the best action films of all time (just two years earlier). To be fair, Little Richard was used throughout the film… this particular song just didn’t invite the best comparisons. Even without that knowledge, the music cue is a bit awkward.
I did a little research before the film and showed that there was a bit of controversy as this was the first film to break the embargo against filming in South Africa (due to apartheid). In fact, apparently the movie was partially funded by the South African government as part of their propaganda program. Luckily, the movie seemed to be pro-freedom and equality and all that… so on the surface, this was anti-Communist and I didn’t see much “pro-Apartheid”. So, phew!
In fact, there weren’t really any “lowpoints” to note (scoring a medicore action scene with the wrong song and a scandalous political history that didn’t quite show up on screen aren’t the worst of sins). Overall, the aspects of the movie that brought it down were middling at worst.
I’d say this is my favorite movie I’ve watched for this (admittedly short so far) feature. The director was Joseph Zito, famous for horror cult classic The Prowler, my favorite Friday the 13th film (Part IV, The Final Chapter), and Chuck Norris mainstays Invasion U.S.A. and Missing in Action. I was going to say that this was a much better-crafted film than Invasion U.S.A., despite being less action-packed and over-the-top.” But then Red Scorpion got to its climax and amped up the gunfire and explosions. In fact, saying Invasion U.S.A. is more action-packed than this is like saying Commando is more action-packed than Cobra. At the end of the day you’re watching a mostly successful, completely bonkers action movie… so who cares?
Zak has been an avid movie fan since his mom made him cover his eyes before the “icicle stabbing” when they rented Die Hard 2 in 2nd grade. As a consolation, in 6th grade he got straight A’s so she gave him the entire Die Hard trilogy on VHS. The rest is history.
All Images courtesy of Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment