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June 14, 2012

Red Scorpion

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Joseph Zito - 1989
Synapse Film Region 0 DVD

One of the best reasons to check out the new DVD of Red Scorpion is for the supplementary interview with producer Jack Abramoff. After a few years as a movie producer, Abramoff comments that he went "into other areas". Talk about understatements! As it turned out, Abramoff probably made a lot more money as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist than had he remained a movie producer. On the other hand, the double dealing and general chicanery that goes on in Washington makes Hollywood look like a bastion of integrity.

I bring this up because Abramoff originated the story for Red Scorpion. The documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money provides more background, with Abramoff's trip to Angola to meet with anti-Communist leaders there. The film takes place in a fictional African country but there is no mistaking the subject when the bad guys are mostly Russian and Cuban soldiers.

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This was the film that established Dolph Lungren as an action hero, back when movie audiences embraced European guys with ripped bodies, speaking heavily accented English. Sure, there were a couple of American guys as well. But Dolph Lungren followed the path established by an Austrian named Arnold, and a Belgian named Jean-Claude. And Lungren does cut an imposing figure, between his towering height and massive build. As the film progresses, Lungren is seen wearing a pair of pants that are so short that the display of beefcake takes on a homo-erotic edge. M. Emmet Walsh succinctly gets it right describing Lungren's character as "King Fucking Kong".

Walsh plays a journalist who is a friend of the African anti-Communist leader Lungren is assigned to assassinate. The pudgy character actor is fun to watch spouting off profanities, and at one point shooting at the Russians and Cubans chasing after him. Any political agenda expressed by Walsh or anyone else in this movie needs to be taken with a grain of salt. What Red Scorpion is really about is making the world safe for the world to shake its collective booty to the songs of Little Richard.

The film was shot in Namibia. Setting aside all the action set pieces, there are a couple of moments of sheer visual beauty in desert scenes that suggest a modest budget Lawrence of Arabia, as well as a single shot of Lungren under a naturally formed rock bridge, the kind of shot that might remind some of John Ford in Monument Valley. Joseph Zito's commentary track is informative about the difficulties in making the film, as well as impressing on the viewer that all the stunts and explosions, and there are lots of both, are all very real, with no computer generated effects, miniatures, and with Lungren doing virtually all of his own stunts.

I don't know if a rehabilitated Jack Abramoff could return to Hollywood. But I will be the first to attest that making an action adventure film with questionable politics is never a crime.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 14, 2012 08:03 AM