DVD Review: Dolph Lundgren in Pentathlon (1994)
Review by Ben Bussey
I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m really not a sports fan. Generally speaking, that’s not too unusual for a film geek, is it? Ball games, athletics; you name it, I’m not a fan of it (beyond a very casual interest in martial arts and extreme sports). This being the case, you can imagine my apathy about the Olympics, currently taking place in my homeland’s capital and dominating the airwaves worldwide. And if I’m apathetic about the Olympics now, how likely am I to care about an Olympic-themed film made eighteen years ago?
However – if it’s an Olympic-themed film from the director of Stallone’s Nighthawks and Seagal’s Hard to Kill, in which the baddies are Neo-Nazis led by David Soul, and the hero is Dolph Lundgren…? Okay, you’ve got my attention. Anchor Bay picked their release date well, with the Olympics underway and The Expendables 2 on the horizon (also a factor in the release of their upcoming Chuck Norris titles, and the Randy Couture vehicle Hijacked).
When our story begins, Germany is still divided into East and West, and our hero Eric Brognar (Dolph) is a pentathlete on the East German Olympic team coached by the ruthless Heinrich Mueller (David Soul). Passionate about his sport but less enthusiastic about his life under the Stasi, Eric plots a daring escape, and after taking home the gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul he flees with his newfound American buddies to a new life in the US. A couple of years down the line the Berlin Wall falls (footage of Hasslehoff singing atop the wall is absent, sadly), and Eric has sunk into poverty and alcoholism. It isn’t too long before he gets back in the game though, once his boss and AA sponsor John Creese (Roger E Mosley – alas, not the Cobra Kai guy) discovers his past and gets him in training. However, Mueller is also back in the game, not as an athletics coach but as a Neo-Nazi terrorist leader, and unsurprisingly Eric is high on his most wanted list.
Now, to again just come out and say it (though I may live to regret that choice of words), I’ve got a bit of a thing about Dolph. Call it a man-crush if you will; it is what it is. I’m sure we can all agree he’s a fine specimen of manhood, not only for his physical gifts but also his mental prowess, said to have an IQ of near-genius level… not that this has ever been confirmed, or that his films would lend much credibility to the notion, Pentathlon included. Every bit as strange and silly as it sounds, it’s on the one hand a standard sports film but peppered with 80s action movie characteristics. While it may attempt to seriously tackle the complex politics of Post-Berlin Wall Germany and the struggles facing political refugees in the US, it’s far more at ease in less challenging territory: i.e., Dolph running, swimming, fighting and so forth. As ever, he’s buff as buggery (again, perhaps not my best choice of words) and spends an inordinate amount of time in clingy vests and tightie whities. In his very first scene he’s Speedo-clad and about to commence a swimming event as a commentator makes reference to his “long and powerful strokes.” Say no more.
As loathe as I am to refer to any a film as a “check your brain at the door” affair, that pretty much is the case here. While it may be in danger of taking itself a little too seriously, this is still very much an 80s-style movie (you’d be forgiven for thinking it was made way ealier than 1994), and as such it’s aiming for simple populist entertainment, which it comfortably delivers. About the only other thing I might add is how utterly perplexed I am that the BBFC felt the need to slap it with an 18 certificate, as opposed to the far more appropriate 15 predicted in the cover art above; for while there are enough F-bombs dropped to stop this being family friendly, the violence isn’t far above 12/PG-13 level for the most part. I dunno, maybe the classifiers were alarmed by the abundance of shots that linger lovingly on Dolph’s package; but hey, that never stopped them giving a U rating to Labyrinth…
Pentathlon is out on Region 2 DVD and Blu-Ray on 30th July, from Anchor Bay.