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‘Red Penguins’ review: East meets west on thin ice

Thing went as well as could be expected when Americans bought into the Soviet hockey team.

The Cold War was a major part of life for any child of the 1980s. The idea of the United States working with the Soviet Union was unimaginable. Yet, that is exactly what happened after the fall of communism. A group of American investors (including Michael J. Fox) purchased the once glorious Russian national hockey team. What they saw as a marketing opportunity turned into a dangerous situation that ended up falling apart.

It sounds like a situation rife with comedic potential. Red Penguins does not disappoint. The film is incredibly funny and at times plays more like a madcap comedy than a documentary. This is in large part to the person in charge of marketing the team, Steven Warshaw. Stories about the Russian Penguins include strippers, dancing bears, and free beer.

Red Penguins is an interesting sports documentary in it rarely covers the actual sport. Scores and records are rarely shown and players are not interviewed. This is a story about what went on behind the scenes.The events that unfolded during the partnership are hard to believe. Before long, even Disney (supposedly) wanted to be a part of the endeavor. It seemed like there was going to be money to go around for everyone.

'Red Penguins' review: East meets west on thin ice

Red, white & blue-uniformed member of Russian Penguins ice hockey team during game at CSKA Arena, re new look for Penguins re Amer. investing $1.2 million into Russian Army-owned team, led by NHL Pittsburgh Penguin’s chmn. (Photo by Sergei Guneyev/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

As chaotic fun as Red Penguins can be, the sudden changes in tone are off putting. The movie is over the top in its silliness before suddenly going into the civil upheaval in 1993. It is almost like a completely different movie at this point. This happens again when the Russian mafia inevitably gets involved. It is odd as Red Penguins spends much time discussing the criminal element without providing much detail. There are nuggets of interesting information but nothing hits quite as hard as hard as it should.

Red Penguins starts off as a wild documentary. The combination of American flair and Soviet pragmatism make for a humorous combination. When things start to take off there is always a sense that the other shoe is going to drop soon. The interviews show it was just too volatile a cast of characters to work. The film falters toward the end, but is an overall fun watch.

Red Penguins will be released by Universal Pictures on August 4.

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