Synapse // 1989 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 10th, 2012
They think they control him. Think again.
I've been keeping my eyes peeled for this early-era Dolph Lundgren classic for quite some time. Now that's it finally on Blu-ray, the question before us is...Can the scorpioning possibly be red enough?
Lundgren (The Expendables) is Lt. Nikolai Rachenko, one of the top soldiers in the Soviet Union's vaunted special forces. His assignment: infiltrate a group of African rebels who have stirred up anti-Communist sentiment and take out the group leader.
Shockingly (or not), Nikolai's mission of subterfuge takes a 180, when he finds himself on the business end of some tasty Soviet betrayal. Following a requisite vision quest with a Wizened Geriatric, ultimately persuaded by the glorious capitalistic inclinations of his new pals, Nikolai mounts up and takes the fight to the Red Bear, intent on doing his part to halt the creeping Communist threat and punch some tanks in the face.
Avatar. Pocahontas. Dances with Wolves. Delgo. They're all shameless knock-offs of the granddaddy -- or at least bizarre uncle -- of the Going Native and Going Nuclear genre: Red Scorpion.
Here we have a proper slice of Commie-punching, served up by director Joseph Zito and producer Jack Abramoff, but sadly it's not much more than an interesting Cold War relic where former residents of the Iron Curtain can live out their revenge fantasies vicariously through Dolph Lundgren using a shotgun to blow a helicopter to smithereens. I was ready to embrace this release, primed to laud its '80s hard-R action merits to all who would listen. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough memorable moments to elevate Red Scorpion above cultural oddity status.
Not that Lundgren didn't give it his all. The acting novice carves out some meat for himself within the action sequences, overwhelming his foes with brute force and growling barely audible dialogue that supposedly offers compelling insight into how a dedicated Soviet super-killer can so merrily murder his friends after spending a day or two in the middle of the desert with some guy he can't even understand. It's very much the storyline we've seen over and over in films featuring heroes that join up with their one-time enemies. I'll happily grant Red Scorpion latitude, because it beat Dances with Wolves out of the gate for its theatrical release. Still, there are no storytelling surprises to be found here.
The action is highlighted by two scenes: an extended truck chase, and the slam-bang final assault on the Soviet base. As for the former, I'm a sucker for truck chases and the staging isn't bad (stunt men look to have genuinely put their lives at risk), but the sequence is marred by a moronic soundtrack, which I'll let you discover for yourself. The latter brings plenty of sound and fury, plus Dolph Lundgren lifts a car and chops off a man's arm (with gore effects supplied by Tom Savini!), but that's about everything of note. Pyrotechnics and ventilated Soviets just don't deliver the impact they used to.
Synapse has assembled a solid HD package nonetheless. Presented in 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded widescreen, the transfer overcomes more than a few moments of intense grain with details that pop. It won't melt your eyes, but for an older cult release, this is probably as good as we can expect. The audio is headlined by a front-loaded DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that falls short of the active aural experience a movie like this requires. Extras include commentary with Joseph Zito and Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson; a nifty Dolph Lundgren featurette that is satisfyingly heavy with Masters of the Universe trivia; interviews with Jack Abramoff and Tom Savini; behind-the-scenes footage; an animated still gallery; some well-done liner notes; and a standard def DVD copy.
I don't know what I was expecting with Red Scorpion, but I certainly didn't think it would be dull. Weep with me, comrade. Weep with me.
Alas, the scorpioning just isn't red enough.
Review content copyright © 2012 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Liner Notes
* DVD Copy