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  Russkies My Favourite Soviet
Year: 1987
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Stars: Whip Hubley, Joaquin Phoenix, Peter Billingsley, Stefan DeSalle, Susan Walters, Patrick Kilpatrick, Vic Polizos, Charles Frank, Susan Blanchard, Benjamin Hendrickson, Carole King, Voyo Goric, Al White, Patrick Mickler, Summer Phoenix, Leo Rossi
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Three young friends - ringleader Danny (Joaquin Phoenix), Adam (Peter Billingsley) and Jason (Stefan DeSalle) - like nothing better to sit in their secret den near a beach in Florida and pore over their favourite comic book, Slammer, which tells the tale of a superpatriotic soldier who gives the Russians what for in every instalment. But little do they know that their paths are about to cross with an actual Soviet citizen when radio operator on a surveillance ship Mischa (Whip Hubley) is recruited to go ashore in a raft on stormy seas and pick up a special device there...

The raft capsizes, Mischa is washed up on the beach, and he thinks he's been abandoned, so sees the boys' den as the ideal hiding place, which leads to yet another rumination from Western pop culture about the Cold War. It only had a couple of years to go when this was released, but they didn't know that at the time, no matter when Mikhail Gorbachev was making with the Glasnost and Perestroika, therefore a whole slew of such entertainment was still being released, whether it was Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris having no qualms about blowing away the Easterners, or more earnest examples such as the ballet dancers in White Nights or Sting hoping in song that the Russians loved their children too.

This left Russkies somewhat forgotten in the wake of all this higher profile entertainment, and after a brief cinema release its natural home was really to be broadcast as filler material for the kiddies on TV holidays. Was there any value in watching such a relic of a bygone age? For nostalgia purposes, the time when the bad guys were so unambiguously depicted both in politics and culture was one which could generate a degree of misty-eyed recall, especially as everything seemed so complicated now; it was no less complicated then, but looking back even international tensions could be viewed through that rose-tinted haze. You couldn't imagine a Hollywood movie showing three All-American kids getting to know a member of Al-Qaeda, after all.

But the message that, hey, those Russians aren't so bad, let's not fight, we have something in common and that's our humanity and so on fitted this kind of era better, and the fear that the decade engendered - mostly of getting blown up in nuclear armageddon - came across as almost quaint in light of the paranoia that was on its way. Pitting these boys against the might of the Soviets was an easy way of making that message palatable to the young audience, and presumably the idea was not to make the viewer think, yeah, kill the Russkies as Chuck would have you cheering, but more maybe they weren't that evil after all. Mischa starts off suspicious, but predictably before long he and the gang are fast friends, with them protecting him against the authorities.

Not that the authorities appear to be taking much of an interest until the end, but the notion that children are more likely to accept propaganda without question was an interesting one. Unfortunately, after that opening act there were more comparisons to be made with the likes of Stand By Me or The Goonies, where this was all one big adventure which included stern parents, Danny's sister (Susan Walters) falling soppily in love with Mischa, and the future Joaquin Phoenix (here called by his original name Leaf) soaring to the rescue in a jet pack. Cheese such as that made Russkies less easy to take seriously no matter how sincere they intended, and a heavy hand on the script duties tended to spell everything out in capital letters rather than employing subtlety, presumably because the writers didn't believe that sort of approach was going to make the desired impression. There may be educational value in watching this now, and Carole King made an appearance (not singing), but mostly it was corny. Music by James Newton Howard.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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