Red Scorpion (1988)
Theatrical Release: April 21, 1989 (USA)
Blu Ray Release: June 12, 2012
Director: Joseph Zito
Review by James Klein
After the wide success of Rocky IV and the somewhat disappointing Masters of the Universe, beefy Dolph Lundgren was signed on to star in this Rambo/Commando-esque action film set inAfrica. While Red Scorpion didn’t do too well at the box office, the movie has achieved a small cult status as one of the last 80′s “shoot ‘em up” action films that was worth a look. Directed by Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th The Final Chapter, Missing in Action) with make up effects by gore guru Tom Savini, this political action film could and maybe should have been forgotten as years have gone by. The talent in front and behind the camera however pushes this odd film from mediocre to somewhat decent. While Synapse is mostly known for distributing horror/sci-fi films, I did find it rather odd but yet refreshing that Synapse went out of their way to release Red Scorpion as a huge special edition blu ray/DVD combo pack.
Dolph plays Lt. Nikolai Rachenko, a Soviet silent killing machine whose mission it is to assassinate the leader of an African rebel uprise. Upset at what he has to do, he gets drunk one night and is taken to jail where he meets an American journalist (M. Emmett Walsh in a hilariously over the top performance) and Kintash (Al White, best known as one of the jive talking men in Airplane!) who just happens to work under the leader of the uprise that Rachenko is suppose to kill. While the three men escape jail, Rachenko attempts and fails at killing the military leader and is quickly beaten and tortured by the Soviets for failing at his mission. Rachenko soon escapes and meets an African bushman who takes him back to the rebel leader and is taught that he was fighting for the wrong side all along. Now, Rachenko is ready to fight along side the African tribesman/rebels and wage war on his comrades.
It was a bit difficult writing out this plot line because the movie is a bit convoluted. Rachenko jumps back and forth from both sides so much, the film starts to quickly lose focus. If the movie just focused more on the action scenes and body count, without the double crossings and long drawn out scenes of African bushmen and rebel freedom fighters discussing their beliefs, the movie would have worked much better. It was even promoted as a straight up action film but aside from the opening and final battle, the movie drags. Zito’s direction holds the film afloat with some decent performances and well crafted action scenes (having directed a few Chuck Norris films, Zito knows how to do action and does it well). First time writer Arne Olsen seems as if he wanted to make a political thriller but also a straight up action film and so the story’s plot becomes a mess. Please writers, keep your storyline(s) basic when wanting to make a balls to the wall action film. No political messages either or at least try not to make it so heavy handed. While Red Scorpion isn’t over the top political, its obvious the writer is trying to say something about the USSR’s influence on Africa but I’m not entirely sure his point or message is made clear.
If one can get past the confusing and dull storyline and have the patience to wait out these moments, they should have a blast with the numerous battle scenes. Plenty of explosions, shootings, bombings and even a blown off severed arm bring this originally R rated film into Unrated territory (get it? Unrated!!!). Synapse has given fans the complete uncut version that has never been released until now. While the film isn’t overly gory, there are a few bits here and there that would have pushed the R rating back in 1988. Zito gives the fans a fascinating commentary track as one of the special features, Lundgren is interviewed regarding his films leading up to Red Scorpion and his experiences making the film, there are some rare behind the scenes footage shot by Tom Savini as well as a new interview with him about the making of the special effects. Photos, trailers, more interviews and even a reversible cover (much like the Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except blu ray/DVD combo) round out this massive special edition.
And what about the picture and sound? It’s Synapse people! If you haven’t read my numerous reviews of Synapse blu ray’s or own one of their many blu ray’s in your collection, you need to get your ass off that chair now and search online or travel to Best Buy and get yourself some of their movies. They have always done a remarkable job with their films and really care about film in general, especially genre films which we here at Unrated truly love.