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August 4, 2012

Movie Review: Red Scorpion (Arrow Video, Blu-ray)

Reviewed by Thomas Berdinski

Big action movie guy? Me? Not really, although I did like “The Avengers” movie. No, I usually spend my time watching rare (often thought “lost”) European and Asian horror flicks – But hey, when James DePaolo of Cinema Headcheese asks you to review the 1988 cult-classic actioner “Red Scorpion” starring the iconic Swedish “He-Man” Dolph Lundgren, I figure I can give my carpel tunnel muscles a few extra reps at the keyboard. (And I am half Swedish after all… And half Sascratch...)

So, what is “Red Scorpion” about? Well, it’s basically about a brooding Soviet super-agent named Nikolai (Dolph) who is sent to Africa to kill an anti-communist tribal revolutionary. (I guess someone thought this guy’s tribe was a real threat to the Soviet Union? Hmm…) However, as events unfold and Nikolai experiences the cruelty of his communist superiors, he has a sort of spiritual awakening, changes sides and leads the tribes against the evil reds and their attack chopper. Sounds familiar enough, but this movie has at least one unexpected twist: It has M. Emmet Walsh…

Walsh (who may be best known as the sleazy, double-crossing private detective in the Coen's brother cult classic “Blood Simple”) plays a grubby American journalist chronicling the rebellion. He is clearly on the side of the rebels, hating commies like every good “fair-and-balanced” reporter should. He and Dolph have some weird but entertaining clashes that keep the characters on a more interesting level than most flicks of this ilk. For example, in one scene Walsh taunts Dolph into taking his clothes off at a pond... Yup, really. “Take it off – Take it all off”, yells Walsh while Dolph takes his shirt off and starts to unsnap his pants. Fortunately a huge explosion happens behind him next, knocking him into the pond before that went any further. Whew... This is supposed to be man-cave stuff! (By the way, there are no female stars in this movie! No love interest for Dolph, no babe for him to save from the bad guys, just a few tribal extra gals who get slaughtered...)

But back to the action, and there is plenty of it. I mentioned earlier that I enjoyed “The Avengers”, but watching “Red Scorpion” right afterward reminded me of what I don’t like about CGI action flicks: the CGI action. Back in 1988, they really blew stuff up. They really fell out of trucks and off of motorcycles. They really got hit by bullets – Well, not really, but the squibs really did explode on their chests and they hurt! The action in “Red Scorpion” is never as fast as the video game action of “The Avengers”, but it’s really happening (albeit with stunt men and cables and pads to fall on), it’s more dangerous and therefore (at least for me) has more of a thrill to it. (If you really like non-CGI action, track down Jackie Chan's earlier flicks – “Rumble in the Bronx” immediately comes to mind...)

Horror fan than I am, I would be unforgivably remiss not to mention the reserved but darn good gore effects by Mr. Tom Savini of “Dawn of the Dead” fame. A little gore here and there gives the action more impact for me. There's a pretty effective torture scene with long pins being stuck through Dolph's muscles and a good dismemberment too. All in a days work for Mr. Savini.

So, how would I rate “Red Scorpion”? Well, for a non-aficionado of action flicks like me, it was a fun time waster, not as predictable as I expected, with action that's colorful and fun. If you think CGI-filled actioners like “Tomb Raider” are the greatest movies ever, you'll probably be bored. The Blu-ray release is crisp for the most part but grainy at times; although I think this is a result of the original footage being panned/cropped prior to release. The Blu-ray extras are entertaining and include a cool featurette on the orchestral music and an interesting interview with Dolph, who talks about the political controversy concerning the original release, “The Expendables” and lots more. He comes off as articulate and good-natured. I'll give it 7 out of 10. Worth a rental when you're in the mood for such things, and worth purchasing if you're a Dolph fan or really like old skool non-CGI action flicks.

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