Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Red Scorpion (1989) *½

R, 105 min.
Director: Joseph Zito
Writers: Arne Olson, Jack Abramoff, Robert Abramoff
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmett Walsh, Al White, T.P. McKenna, Carmen Argenziano, Alex Colon, Brion James, Ruben Nthodi

In the late 80s Roger Ebert wrote an entry into his movie glossary of definitions called the Walsh/Stanton Rule, which stated that any movie with either M. Emmett Walsh or Harry Dean Stanton in its cast couldn’t be all bad. I have found that this rule does not always stand up. Case in point, 1989’s attempt to create a Russian Rambo with Swedish action star Dolph Lundgren called “Red Scorpion”. This is not a good film, and M. Emmett Walsh’s involvement does nothing to lift it above the glorified action dreck that it is.

In it Walsh plays an American journalist uncovering the oppressive practices of the Cuban Army (with a pretty massive amount of help from the Soviets) against the poor tribal communities of Africa. I’m guessing the conflict is fairly heavily exaggerated in the movie, since by 1988 it had been ongoing for over twenty years and would wind down to a close in 1989. Certainly the Soviets had other concerns at the time. Walsh’s character talks into his tape recorder as if this is some new conflict that is a secret to the world. He seems fairly out of place and is required to provide the film’s flimsy comic relief. His big shtick? He says, “Fuckin’ A” after everything. Ha. Ha.

Lundgren is a Soviet Special Forces soldier who is commissioned to assassinate the leader of the rebel movement against the Cuban forces. Once he saves one of the rebel leaders to get to the main leader, he begins to see that it is the Africans who are being oppressed by the Cubans, rather than the other way around. He begins to sympathize with them, and eventually joins their ranks against the Cubans and his fellow Ruskies. Did the lughead really need to see that the Africans had no real infrastructure to understand who the real oppressors were? I guess that doesn’t say much for the education system in the U.S.S.R.

Despite the ludicrousness of the set up, the filmmakers’ real problem is never understanding that you don’t need to show a soldier think. They can do it without showing you. You can understand their choices just by observing their actions. There’s nothing quite so sad as watching an action hero trying to emote with nothing else to do. After so many shots of Lundgren standing in the desert without a shirt and his brow furrowed, I just wanted to throw the guy a lifeline. Here, I’ll save you from your stupid director, who doesn’t understand the slightest thing about acting while you take the fall for it. That’s why “First Blood” works so well. They never stopped to show Stallone think about anything. Even during his emotional outburst at the end, it all just comes pouring out of him. They don’t force the audience to watch him build up to it.

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