By: John M Jerva
The 80’s were a marvelous time to be an action fan with one after another of bombastic action flicks coming out every week starring some of the genre’s larger than life stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and, of course, Dolph Lundgren who first made waves when he took on Sly in Rocky IV as the menacing Ivan Drago.
After that film, Lundgren went on to star in a slew of action pics that included The Punisher, I Come In Peace AKA Dark Angel and his very first headling role in the Joseph Zito helmed Russian Rambo-esque thriller Red Scorpion. In it, Dolph played elite Spetsnaz soldier Lt. Nikolai Rachenko who is sent on a covert mission to befriend an African rebel leader in order to get close to him and assassinate him. Things go awry however when he is discovered and left for dead by both the rebels and the very Russian army he fought for.
Rachenko has other plans and when he is rescued by a bushman and nursed back to health, he teams up with the very rebels he was fighting against when he finds out that he was the enemy all along. It’s a moment of clear revelation as Rachenko now with the power of the scorpion behind him, knows that he must annihilate those he once called comrades.
Red Scorpion is celebrating its 31st anniversary this week as the film was released in theaters back on April 21st, 1989. The film was an obvious rip on Rambo with a Soviet fair but the film has gone on to become a cult classic due to Lundgren and a great cast that included M. Emmet Walsh, Carmen Argenziano, Al White and the late, great Brion James.
Back in ‘89 when the film was released, I was a mere 16 years old and I was fortunate enough to see it on the big screen as back in those days, these types of films still made it into cinemas with wide releases. If Red Scorpion was to hit today, it probably would have been a select cinema and Digital release which is unfortunate as I feel there will always be an audience for these types of films.
Red Scorpion is a young Lundgren at his best and he was a machine in beast mode with a physique that seemed to defy logic. Lundgren was a natural for the role of a Spetsnaz special forces soldier and he hit the ground running with all guns blazing as the movie was locked and loaded with some spectacualr action set pieces which included a finale where he took on a Soviet attack helicopter with only a machine gun in his hands. It was Dolph Lundgren though so if anyone could pull it off it was this mountain of a man.
The film did slow down a little in the middle when Rachenko went through his spiritual rebirth but that was OK as the first third and last third of the flick was packed with immense displays of firepower and fisticuffs. Lundgren, with his first starring role, proved without a doubt that he had what it took to be an action star and the man is still going strong to this day as he has become an icon in the genre.
The supporting cast was top notch as well with the always great character actor M. Emmet Walsh who also starred with Chuck Norris in Missing In Action as a reporter named Dewey Fergusen who is in Africa to report on the atrocities perpetrated by the Russian army on the tribes of Africa. At first Dewey, is skeptical of Rachenko as well he should be, but eventually the two become allies when Nikolai learns his lesson and sets out to right his wrongs.
This is the type of film that while it was a little political to a point, it was all about the action and the stunts which included a spectacular car chase as Rachenko helps the rebel leader Kallunda Kintash played by Al White escape jail in order to gain his trust. It’s the type of chase that used practical stunts and effects and this is something that is very much missed nowadays as CGI is used heavily in action films. It was an awesome time for these films as everything was practical and it brought authenticity to each film. Remember blood squibs? I sure do.
Now I touched base on it earlier but the finale is truly worth the price of admission alone as a newly rejuvenated Rachenko leads the rebels on an all out assault on his previous employers’ compound in a rousing and epic 80’s firefight that is complete with explosions, bullets whizzing through the air, tanks and Lundgren sporting a massive and awe inspiring machine gun with a circular fed clip on the top. It just screams action hero weapon.
He earns his one man army status as he runs a gauntlet of soldiers even blowing off one of their arms with a spray from his beast like weapon. Then, of course, he saves the best for last as he single handedly brings down a chopper with the evil General Vortek played by T.P. McKenna on board. It is here where Vortek spits out the line “you were Spetsnaz,” to which Rachenko replies, “I am Spetsnaz, but I am no longer one of you.” It is a great moment and a wonderful example of the lone wolf warrior emerging from the shadows.
The whole movie just radiates 80’s action superiority and I have the collector’s edition Blu-Ray which features a score of special features that enhances an already bad ass flick which announced Lundgren as the new breed of action hero.
Relive the glory of Red Scorpion and it’s total 80’s supremacy below with the battle tested climax and happy anniversary!!!