Much fisting! The multiple muscle-sploitation joys of Jack Abramoff and Dolph Lundgren's Red Scorpion
CHEESY, SLEAZY CINEMA Last year found Jack Abramoff a peculiarly hot commodity at the movies, especially if you consider he spent most of the year in federal prison and hadn't exercised his own Hollywood ambitions in nearly a quarter-century.
But then his recent on-screen exposure was not of an ilk he'd have chosen for himself: as subject of a documentary (2010's Casino Jack and the United States of Money) and biographical drama (plain Casino Jack, also 2010) both depicting the now-infamous Washington, D.C., lobbyist as personification of that Shrub Era conservative jingoism, corrupt backdoor business deals, egomania, and greed that helped land us in our current economic craphole. And which got him four years, ending last month even as former Republican House Majority leader and BFF Tom DeLay faced the start of his own money-laundering slammer stint.
Abramoff was not likely to have enjoyed either portrait, not even as semi-sympathetically (albeit poorly) portrayed by Academy Award-winning thespian Kevin Spacey in the weaker film. If he'd been able to invent his own starring vehicle, no doubt it would have been more a flatteringly bold cross of 1987's Wall Street (the Michael Douglas part), 1960's Exodus (the Paul Newman as he-man crusader for Israel part) and 1980s Rocky-Rambo Stallone (the whole enchilada, from bulging biceps to rippling Old Glory and Commie-wasting weaponry). In the Reagan America of his physical if not yet political prime, he really was a bit of all those things: bodybuilder, Zionist, rabid anti-Red.
Whether he ever harbored dreams of being a celluloid hero, or was always content to become a real-life Supermensch, Abramoff did once make a movie — exactly one — exemplifying his beliefs and self-image in suitably cartoonish fashion, before realizing Hollywood's corridors of power were puny game for a real man. So he moved on to the more hallowed halls of D.C. and Manhattan. But first, there was Red Scorpion.
This 1988 actioner starred 6-foot, 5-inch Swedish meatball Dolph Lundgren, hot from playing the robo-Russkie villain in Rocky IV (1985) and He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987), as a "perfect killing machine" sent by evil Soviet commanders to assassinate a resistance leader in a fictive African nation under the thumb of Communist oppressors.
Tending not to play well with others, Lt. Nikolai Rachenko spends his first night here in jail for "disorderly conduct" — after a few drinks he'd kicked open a saloon door, beat up half the patrons, and machine-gunned the joint. Boys will be boys. He shares a cell with a local freedom fighter (Al White) and an American reporter (M. Emmet Walsh at his formidably most-obnoxious). For no obvious reason our steroid miracle of a KGB enforcer decides moments later to switch sides and help them escape. This effort requires killing about a million extras playing Russian and Cuban military occupiers to the tune of Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly." (Because nothing says "Democracy rocks!" like the orgasmic trills of an African American queen.)
Slowly-dawning ability to feel empathy for suffering peoples indicated by the heavings of his perpetually oiled torso and completely unintelligible mutterings, Nikolai is recaptured by former masters and made to endure homoerotic torture. He escapes again, staggering through the desert alone, shirtless and shiny. Bushmen rescuers teach this Golden Bwana something or other — like Billy Jack, he sweats, grunts, and hallucinates toward enlightenment — and give him a scorpion tattoo as diploma.
Now armed spiritually as well as abdominally to do good, his reappearance in civilization spurs Walsh to call this juiced Russki "the gutsiest goddamn sonuvabitch I ever met." (Arne Olsen's screenplay, from the brothers Jack and Robert Abramoff's story idea, is seldom even this articulate.)