Red Scorpion

January 5, 2011

Hollywood has been trying to find something for Dolph Lundgren to do ever since he provided a gargantuan foil for Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV. Lundgren is a huge, blond, muscle-bound slab of beefcake who has since appeared as a cartoonish figure in Masters of the Universe.

The prerequisites for one of his films are: (1) an explanation for his thick accent, (2) lots of excuses to take off his shirt, (3) plenty of ammo to please the “Soldier of Fortune” crowd, and (4) no Shakespearian soliloquies. Dolph’s new film, Red Scorpion, meets all of these qualifications.

The big man plays a Soviet special-services agent, an indestructible assassin with a very funny haircut. He’s sent into an emerging African country where rebels are raising arms against the Soviet occupying force. Lundgren’s assignment is to kill the spiritual leader of the rebel forces.

Once behind the lines, Dolph realizes the error of his political thinking. He’s taught the ways of the African plain by a bushman, a Yoda character, and he decides to help the rebels after the natives tattoo a scorpion on his chest.

This section with the bushman makes Red Scorpion seem a bit offbeat, but director Joseph Zito, a veteran of this kind of action picture, quickly gets things back in gear by dragging in the really heavy artillery. This sort of movie measures its success by the number of explosions it sets off, and there are plenty here.

The movie’s ugly American is played by M. Emmett Walsh, a character actor who specializes in sleazeballs.

The Soviets and the Cubans are the bad guys, in particular a Cuban torture expert who gets Dolph chained up in a cell and begins to push long needles through our hero’s skin. “I am very good at avoiding vital organs,” he chuckles, in the film’s craziest line. Obviously, this movie has “hit” written all over it.

First published in the Herald, April 27, 1989

Nothing too special about this review, but the movie came into mind this week because I watched Casino Jack, the sordid saga of Jack Abramoff, a man whose ethical sleaziness is beyond the reach of M. Emmett Walsh at his slimiest (though Kevin Spacey gives it a spirited go). Abramoff produced Red Scorpion, and the most amazing thing about that fact is that it wasn’t enough for Abramoff to produce a dumb exploitation picture, he had to do it with money allegedly channeled from South Africa, which was still enjoying the strange fruit of its apartheid system. Leave it to Abramoff to sully the proud tradition of crappy grindhouse movies.

As for the film itself, I don’t remember it, but it has strong anti-Communist overtones. Lundgren acquitted himself well in The Expendables, and it does seem as though he should have gotten into some decent films somewhere along the line. Not that there’s anything wrong with I Come in Peace.