*** Out of 5
Tagline- They Think They Can Control Him, Think Again
Release Date- April 21st, 1989
Running Time- 106-Minutes
Screenplay- Arne Olsen
Director- Joseph Zito
Starring- Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, Al White, T.P. McKenna, Carmen Argenziano and Brion James
Released in 1989 Red Scorpion was directed by Joseph Zito probably best known for his slasher flicks The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter with many people hailing The Final Chapter the best of the Friday the 13th movies. Joseph Zito also has worked on such action films as Invasion U.S.A and Missing in Action both starring Chuck Norris and while Zito may not go down as one of the great filmmakers he is though a director that clearly knows what his audience wants and pretty much delivers that in his films. The Prowler in my opinion is an underrated movie that only really gets noticed for Savini’s gore F/X and for good reason, but I think the movie has much more than just that going for it and Invasion U.S.A after a slow start is an excellent action flick.
Red Scorpion is a movie that has potential to be a lot more than it ended up, but as a whole the movie is about average, but still entertaining; Nikolai Rachenko (Lundgren) a KGB agent is sent on a mission to kill the leader of the rebel army, but when the mission fails, Nikolai is than left for dead by his own people, but after an escape he meets back up with the rebel army looking to take down his own people. The screenplay by Arne Olsen is rather subpar at times filled with weak characters that only work due to the casting; the story takes too long to really get going and the first half of the movie has Nikolai on his undercover mission along side the rebels and this eats up a good chunk of the movie and I can’t help, but feel there was too much put on this, which than causes the 2nd half to feel a bit rushed. The change in Nikolai also is underwhelming as since by this time in the movie things need to move forward and instead it just slows things down too much. Overall Olsen writes the standard action flick and while the script has its moments it just to me seems to be filled with too much filler.
Director Joseph Zito does a fairly good job, but the direction is kind of by the books; Red Scorpion is the standard action flick of the 80s, but because its clichéd doesn’t make it bad; the pacing can be a little sluggish at times, but in fairness to Zito he was limited by the script at times, but the action scenes even if standard are fun and exciting. That’s why in the opening of the review I mentioned how Zito is a filmmaker that knows that his audience wants and while with Red Scorpion he may not deliver as much like his past movies, but he still gets the job done. The final 10-minutes with the big battle are really excellent and sort of makes up for the sluggish at times pacing.
The casting for Red Scorpion is what helps elevate the movie and Dolph Lundgren makes for an awesome action here and while he had a lot of success in the 80s and early part of the 90s he never really got the big time success as other action stars and never seemed to get enough respect. Lundgren is very good here and is the ideal action star. M. Emmet Walsh is a riot and his type of character can be very annoying, but rather than be annoying, Walsh makes the character a lot of fun.
Tom Savini who has worked with Zito on the Prowler, The Final Chapter and Invasion U.S.A also does make up F/X for Red Scorpion and while the movie has plenty of action don’t expect the typical Savini gore F/X also the DP on the movie was Joao Fernandez who has worked with Zito several times on his more notable flicks and lastly the score by Jay Chattaway (Maniac, Vigilante) is very well-done and in my opinion Chattaway is a great composer that doesn’t seem to get his credit.
Overall Red Scorpion had the potential to be a lot more than it turned out, but with that said it’s still a fun mindless movie and while some might see this as a propaganda film with the big bad Russians, it was during the height of the cold war the film went into production, but regardless despite the shortcomings, Red Scorpion does make for a fun if not lackluster film.