Nearly two years later, Synapse Films comes to the rescue, not only bringing it back on DVD, but debuting it on Blu-ray — and in an uncensored cut, no less! Now that I’ve watched it, I can say with certainty it’s the best action movie ever produced by a notorious federal felon (Jack Abramoff, who also wrote the story). Yay, capitalism!
Lundgren is Lt. Nikolai Rachenko, a Soviet Special Forces agent assigned to take out an African revolutionary (Al White, one of Airplane!’s legendary jive-talkers) who crusades against their Communist ways. Waylaying a bar while drunk on vodka, Nikolai purposely gets himself thrown in the clinker to get close to his target … yet flips allegiances when he sees what pieces of crap the Russkies are to the Africans. Your politics aside, this is cool so the action sequences can begin.
In the best of these set pieces, the new pals escape the prison compound along with a rotund journalist played by character actor du jour M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) — the kind of comic-relief sidekick who takes the time during this high-stakes chase to hook up his Little Richard cassette to the vehicle’s P.A. system.
What takes some of the shit-kickin’ sting out of Red Scorpion is an extended sequence between Nikolai and a bushman he cannot communicate with in any way but pantomime. Watching them traverse the desert for about half an hour drags down the proceedings — surprise of all surprises. Things kick back into gear for the third act’s big ol’ final battle, capped by a final line uttered by Lundgren that could double as a Scorpion review: “Fuckin’ A!”
Although better than he is given credit for, Lundgren is limited as an actor, but Red Scorpion stands in the dead center of that scope. His Nikolai even has a character arc — from menacing brick to sympathetic brick, then Everyman brick to cartoon brick — and Lundgren adjusts his performance at every turn. Yes, I said “performance”; watch the aforementioned bar scuffle and watch him play it with a deft sense of humor. He’s far smarter than your Expendable, and for my money, more fun to watch.
Synapse’s Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes predictably well-stocked with extras, including a post-incarceration interview with Abramoff, who comes off more humbled than I expected. But no one’s going to purchase this package for Abramoff’s thoughts, so the highlight is naturally the half-hour interview with Lundgren, “Hath No Fury,” in which he chronicles his right-time/right-place short path from chemical engineer to action hero.
A piece with makeup man Tom Savini, behind-the-scenes footage and the usual trailers round out the set. If you like the movie, give the feature-length commentary by director Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) a listen, because the story of the movie’s making is more interesting than the movie itself — one of the great, unheralded, problem-plagued production tales of modern cinema.
Your move, comrade. —Rod Lott
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