Russkies (1987)

23 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Russkies” is a good-natured film that has a cute setup and some nice ideas to follow through with it, right up until the ending climax that made the film seem desperate.

The movie, set in Key West, Florida, at a time when the Cold War is still going on, features three pre-teenage boys who find a Russian sailor. The Russian is stranded after being washed ashore and the boys are the first ones to find him. The boys—Danny (Joaquin “Leaf” Phoenix), Adam (Peter Billingsley, “A Christmas Story”), and Jason (Stefan DeSalle)—have been reared by military families and raised on a series of anti-foreigner comic books called “Sgt. Slammer,” so naturally, their first instinct is to believe that this Russian radio operator is a Commie spy. They’re able to hold him at gunpoint with the Russian’s own gun and threaten to turn him into the authorities, but soon enough, they discover that Mischa—the Russian, played by Whip Hubley—is actually a nice guy and decide to let him hang around with them.

This is good stuff—the way these kids interact with this stranger is handled in a fun way and not a disturbing way. The kids are well-cast and Whip Hubley has appeal and a certain credibility as a Russian—sometimes, he’s not entirely convincing as a Russian, but close enough mostly. And it is nice to see how Mischa reacts to America—he eats Big Macs, gets used to Jeans and collar shirts, plays video games, rides go-carts, and even develops a relationship with Adam’s sweet older sister Diane (Susan Walters)—but also would love to return home somehow.

While the setup is fun, “Russkies,” unfortunately, has a dim-witted payoff that is implausible and seems like a pale imitation of the climax in “E.T.” Without going into much detail, much of it involves a sadistic drunken fisherman, the kids’ idiot parents, and two real Russian spies in a boat chase for separate reasons. I did not need this climax and I particularly did not need a mean drunk to be the real bad guy here.

What “Russkies” has that makes it work are fun scenes set in the kids’ point of view, mixing comic books with comedy and adventure. They are what I liked about “Russkies,” but the rest of the film has run out of ideas and energy, and so I can’t recommend it.

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