After his memorable stoic, near mute beefcake turn as Russian heavyweight boxer Ivan Drago it was inevitable that Hollywood would try to exploit the well muscled chiselled jaw of Dolph Lundgren to see if they might replicate the unlikely prior successes of Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Chan and Stallone.
Now you’ll notice there are no ‘Dolph’ sidebars on this website…
Red Scorpion has Dolph assume the role of Nikolai Ratchenko, the Russian Special Forces secret weapon. A crack soldier, a loyal asset and a mean drunk charged with infiltrating a group of African rebels in order to take out the leader, thereby making it easier for the invading Russians to better subjugate and oppress the locals.
Of course being a six foot six ghostly white Adonis with a mullet that could scrape paint from the walls, there is little chance for Ratchenko to do much blending in, so he adopts the strategy of appearing to switch sides, escorting a wanted African rebel member and a loud mouthed American journalist who takes every opportunity to deride Russia with a stream of thinly veiled overt racism.
With the African rebels wary, the Russians unsure of his loyalty and the African army trigger happy, Ratchenko manages to piss of everyone at some point – even the Cubans who appear to be here with the justification of ‘well while we’re taking potshots at guys we hate’.
No man can defeat him. No army can force surrender. No sun can burn him. No wind can alter the flattop. No shirt can tame him.
That doesn’t guarantee entertainment though. In fact during the middle third Red Scorpion is a drab bore awaiting the injection of inspiration, something more than the wise old sage bushmen that serves as the film’s clicking Mr Miyagi figure.
Finally after what seems like an eternity of finding his inner peace under the guidance of his personal diminutive swami/guru/yoda figure, Ratchenko feels sufficiently inspired to kick ass and takes names. And yes it does seem just as odd in the film as it does reading the previous sentence.
Juxtaposing themes aside, the film really did need to end on a bloody high note after an incongruous first ninety minutes of occasional action interspersed with dull periods of finding oneself and casual racism – purpose built to paint the Russians in a negative light.
While it is still a case of too little, too late, I was reminded of a backhanded compliment granted to NBA player Eric Snow about a dozen years ago, a journeyman who unexpectedly became a vital cog in a suddenly successful team.
After making a vital shot in one game a commentator was moved to say “Eric Snow has taken hours and hours of exhausting practise and has managed to turn himself into an average shooter”.
Red Scorpion took countless minutes to find itself, and on the strength of one final shoot-out managed to work itself into an average 80s actioner. Still not that good, but better than the first hour indicated.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. Dolph never managed to climb into the 80s action Hall of Fame, this film is both evidence of his potential and the reasons he never made the grade.