March 27, 2012

If you like your meals sweetened with saccharin, Russkies may be just your cup of borscht. Otherwise, you’d be advised to skip this particular soup.

Russkies is another one of those movies in which it is determined that, if we only saw each other as human beings, we’d all live together in simple peace and harmony. Already this year, Amazing Grace and Chuck has cleaned up the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Russkies comes along to smooth over the general problems of U.S.-Soviet relations (and just in time for the December summit, yet).

The basic setup here is reminiscent of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, except that movie was a lot funnier. Here, a Soviet ship discharges a raft off the coast of Florida, which founders in heavy seas. Three Soviets struggle ashore.

Two of these Soviets make like the diplomats in Ninotchka, and wind up resembling Shriners at a convention in Key West. The other lost Russkie is a youthful sailor (Whip Hubley) who is captured by three boys.

These three kids like to play lots of gung-ho G.I. Joe games, but the Russian sailor’s humanity puts their jingoistic fervor to rest. Of course. Soon, instead of wanting to turn in the Bolshevik to the authorities, they plot to borrow a pleasure boat and cart their new pal down to Cuba.

This geek patrol is played by Leaf Phoenix, Peter Billingsley, and Stefan DeSalle. In the course of the film, they introduce their friend to the joys of America, including McDonalds’ burgers, go-karts, baseball, and miniature golf. Oh, and also the cute older sister (Susan Walters) of one of the boys. The comrade, for his part, teaches a lesson in international cooperation, by telling them about the “beeg hugs” he gives his family in Russia.

It’s all laid on pretty thick. Not at all what one would expect from director Rick Rosenthal, who made the gritty and potent prison drama, Bad Boys, with Sean Penn. Here Rosenthal goes about his business like a United Nations goodwill ambassador, apparently without shame. But he’s lofting marshmallows all the way, which usually guarantees that no one will pay attention. In this case, justifiably so.

First published in the Herald, November 6, 1987

Leaf is now Joaquin, of course. Sure, I made fun of this movie, a sweet-natured antidote to Red Dawn. But guess what, jerks: the Soviet Union fell two years later and the Cold War ended. Reagan? I don’t think so. Chalk it up to Whip Hubley, Peter Billingsley, and Rick Rosenthal, folks, and be thankful we’re still speaking American.