Color, 1992, 113 mins. 34 secs. / 110 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Vsevolod Plotkin
Starring Vladimir Menshov, Sergei Veksler, Aleksandr Rozenbaum, Mitya Volkov, Murad Aliyev, Anvar Kendzhayev
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
You can practically drown in the testosterone emanating from this sprawling action film released just as the U.S.S.R. had dissolved to make way for the Russian Federation. It's quite a change of pace for label Vinegar Syndrome, who isn't normally known for foreign films or '90s action epics -- but here they deliver both at the same time, with jaw-dropping results.
The criminal underworld is having a violent field day in the chaos of the new government, often in league with Kremlin officials and spraying bullets all over various outposts to set up a coup from the borders. Their ostensible leader is the ruthless Jaffar (Roznbaum, or "Alexander Rosenbaum"), who doesn't seem to have a drop of warm blood in his veins as he raids Ukrainian police stations and steals money and weapons to boost his drug operation. Meanwhile Afghan war vet Oleg Andyeyevich (Menshov, director of the Oscar-winning Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears and later star of Night Watch and Day Watch), a former military pilot, greets his son Yura (Volkov) for the first time in two years fresh off a plane from Moscow and takes him to a boot camp Oleg runs in the mountains for survivalists. Also on hand is Oleg's former brother in arms and best friend Nikolai (Veksler), or "Nick" in the English version, whom Yura regards as an uncle. Oleg's kind of a strange dad, allowing his prepubescent kid to drive (badly) to the camp, welcoming him with a feast of gigantic roasted boar, and torturing him with cold showers because "it builds character." Fortunately their still stay bonded despite all the survival exercises because, according to the motto Oleg drills into him, "You and I are the same blood." The two stories converge when a failed attack leaves Jaffar without a caravan leader, which leads them near Oleg's turf where they end up knifing a guy in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood and taking Yura and Nicolai to their headquarters. Jaffar tries to convince Nicolai (who's still way in debt to rebel forces) to be the new caravan guide, but all doesn't go as planned -- and Oleg is forced to join in and attack the operation with a cavalcade of explosions and gun battles.
Basically a Russian-flavored riff on Commando with a dash of Red Scorpion, this one follows the traditional action movie template of doling out its violence and chases very sparingly in the first hour before going crazy with one big set piece after another, amusingly often staged among livestock including nonplussed cows and one poor startled donkey. The variety of locations from snowy government buildings to the desert Muslim areas gives this one a very different feel from the norm despite the fairly standard story trajectory, and though the plot's a bit muddled in the beginning with very little character establishment, it should keep action fans happy with more than enough mayhem including plenty of rocket launcher gags and lots of demolished trucks.
The dual-format release from Vinegar Syndrome presents this film for what appears to be its English-language debut in any home video format, in either its English-dubbed version (with optional English SDH subtitles) or the slightly shorter (by just under three minutes) Russian-language cut with English or Russian subtitles, the former featuring DTS-HD MA stereo audio and the latter Dolby Digital only. The English version is amusing given the flat American accents given to all the characters regardless of location, but it works well enough; the Russian option isn't quite as authentic as you'd expect (a lot of it is looped, rather poorly), but the meaning of much of the dialogue is radically different and it's worth spinning at least once for comparison. Image quality appears to be fine given the rather scrappy nature of the film itself, which is often grainy and visually inconsistent but good enough and certainly authentic in a cinematic sense. In addition to the film's English trailer and a gallery of promotional material including stills and posters, the package (sporting a new cover design by Derek Gabryszak) has a pair of new featurettes that shed some light on how the film came about. In "Producing Red Mob" (18m2s), producer Arthur Schweitzer explains how he came to the film (Russia's "first Western-style action film") via Norwegian investors and found himself working with a roster of talented professionals mainly drawn from Mosfilm. From there it's a wild story involving broken legs, shooting in the Baltics, the KGB, military equipment, and the parallels between this film and future political developments in Russia. In "Shooting from the Hip" (23m41s), Schweitzer returns for a broader look at Cinevest, this film's distributor and the force behind a very odd range of films, with his career up to the point of this production touching on such titles as Godzilla vs. Megalon, Kentucky Fried Movie, Dawn of the Dead, and Cinevest's debut Dog Tags (directed by Romano Scavolini), with tales along the way involving organized crime and an unexpected KKK meeting. Definitely a case of the extras being almost as wild as the main feature itself.
Reviewed on May 26, 2017