Black Shark (1992)
Hi all, Nate here. Letís say itís 1992, just humor me. Letís also say youíre dictator-for-life of some rinkydink Third World shithole country and you have more money than you know what to do with. Letís also say that you really, really want some cool attack helicopters to chase around the restive tribesmen on the hinterlands of your glorious nation (ie shithole). America wonít sell you anything because of that whole ďCrimes Against HumanityĒ misunderstanding, neither will France or Germany because they're pansies. Hey, Russia has some nice helicopters, and they come cheap, you can even buy them with the dealer-installed option of some mercenary pilots, what a deal! Now if only there was a Russian action movie staring their latest attack chopper design that would showcase all of its fantastic goatherder-strafing abilities while also entertaining you with a high-quality story of patriotic Rooskie commandoes and nefarious ĎMurican baddies. Wouldnít that be swell? Too bad all we have is Black SharkÖ
A couple years back I reviewed another Russian movie, the fantastically named Mirror Wars: Reflection One, which was little more than a two-hour promotional video for the Su-35 fighter jet with some romance and facekicking mixed in. Well, what that one did for superfast jets, our movie does for helicopters, so yay. Specifically the awesome-looking Kamov Ka-50 Black Shark, which in 1992 was still in the prototype development stage and being aggressively shopped around to anyone who would be willing to buy a bunch and help out Russiaís struggling defense industry sector. What better way than to promote it in a fictional movie format, Hollywoodski writes the script and hires some square-jawed actors, and Kamov supplies a factory-fresh Black Shark for the filming, win/win for everyone. Since youíre dying to know, the Black Shark turned out to be an over-priced under-preforming dud and no one (as of 2014) has bought any. Perhaps they should have made a better movie.
No matter how well it looks here.
And speaking of the movie, letís get it rolling. I hesitate to even try and introduce any of the human characters in this movie, as none of them really do much more than read lines off the script and try not to get hurt when the pyrotechnics are popping. Thereís a Colonel Guy, a Russian soldier who seems to be in charge of shooting stuff and throwing knives. Thereís a KGB Girl with Mary Lou Retton hair who is here because we need at least one thing with boobs in our movie. And thereís a Drug Kingpin up in the mountains of Afghanistan who has a private army and a heroin factory. Colonel Guy and his troops are sent there to root out the Drug Kingpin, KBG Girl comes along to point at stuff, and Black Shark is tasked with zipping around the mountains and testing out new weapon systems.
None of these people mean anything to me.
So I donít have any idea what the hell is going on in 80% of this movie. Thereís a group of Rooskie commandoes, some Eurotrash mercenaries, a couple of CIA moles, the KGB Girl, the Colonel Guy, and about a thousand Keffiyeh-wearing Arab dudes all running around shooting at each other at the same time. Who is shooting at who and for what reason seems to change by the minute and I flat out refuse to keep track of what group is on what side when itís as clear as molasses. Whoever edited this movie needs the Gulag, it seems they just haphazardly cut up scenes and Scotch-taped them together in totally random order for no reason whatsoever, destroying any dramatic tension or continuity in some horrible attempt to mimic an MTV music video on cocaine. The ďheroĒ is supposedly the Colonel Guy, but his scenes are so intermixed with faceless Pashtun guys with rifles running around that you never get invested in his daring deeds, and it doesnít help that heís dressed exactly the same as all the other guys with guns and anger issues and you canít tell who is who half the time. In fact, the Colonel Guy apparently gets into a boot-kicking and grenade-tossing fight with some bad guys (maybe the mercenaries?) and itís three scenes later when you realize that itís over and heís been captured.
Who are you again?
During all the above mess, Black Shark is flying occasional missions to blow stuff up, staffing hapless tribesmen and rocketing buildings for no other reason than it looks bitchiní cool when shitís on fire, man. As exciting as all that sounds, itís not, mostly because no one is trying very hard. Just endless shots of obvious dummies tossed around, stuntmen falling onto visible mattresses, guys falling down two seconds before the bombs go off, reused footage from previous battles, everything that youíd expect in a High School production of Red Dawn: The Musical. How can this be so bad, so boring, so poorly acted and filmed? All the ingredients for a kickass action movie are here, state-of-the-art killer helicopters, heavily-armed mustachioed commandoes, easily-hated Muslim and/or American bad guys, free-for-all rules of engagement on all sides, more blood squibs and smoke pot bombs than ever seen before, it all should have been an amazing stew of awesome awesomeness! But, sadly, not so much.
Bang. You killed me with boredom.
Iím going to grind this review to a halt for a second here to complain bitterly about one aspect of this movie that just drives me nuts. I get it, we can have exteriors of the helicopter flying around and shots of it on the ground, but for a variety of technical reasons we canít actually have our actor fly the thing and stick a camera in the cockpit to show him doing so. And, yes, the guy playing the pilot has so few lines (3?) that they could have just used an actual helicopter pilot, but thatís not the Russian way. So as the helo is flying around shooting up stuff, they keep inserting close-up shots of the actorís face in a flight helmet, tight enough that we canít see anything but his chubby cheeks and his furry nostrils, but clearly heís just sitting in a lawn chair in a hotel room in front of the camera. This bugs me because itís a little thing that goes a long, long way to totally pulling you out of the movie and the tension of the action. Remember the final attack on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars, specifically all those shots of Luke in the X-Wing cockpit? Because the camera was back far enough and they took the time to build a convincing cockpit set around him and had gaffers shake it off-screen to give it some life, you really got the feeling that Luke was actually zipping down that trench in his fighter with the ion cannons blasting. It would not have been that hard for our movieís set crew to build something helicopter-ish for the actor to sit in and then wiggle the lens a bit to give the impression of movement, but they chose the cheap and easy way out. Thatís just lazy filmmaking and, more to the point, it does little to make flying an actual Black Shark seem anything more than dreadfully boring and that's not going to help your bottom line.
Anyway, so the final battle is at hand and itís a doozy. Colonel Guy (now suddenly Shirtless Colonel Guy), makes a break for it, taking along KGB Girl (now suddenly Machinegun-Spraying Death Goddess) and some other random Russian dude (who the hell is that?). They easily escape the Drug Kingpinís fortress and make a run for it across the desert in a stolen jeep. Chasing along behind are a bunch of BMP APCs in what could have been the single most awesome car/tank chase known to man, but instead is little more than everyone driving really, really slowly so no one gets hurt and costs the production any extra money in medical bills. My god, Mister Director, you have frickiní tanks! Use them, crash into stuff, have the jeep zig-zag around them, shoot those guns, do something! Damn, Iíve seen three grandmas on electric scooters at a Boca Raton Walmart have a more exciting chase scene than this.
Hey, whatís on HBO tonight?
Black Shark arrives on scene now, might as well, it wasnít doing much of anything lately. Drug Kingpin and CIA Goon also show up, flying in a big Mi-24 Hind helicopter, and the stage is set for an epic helo-on-helo death match in the clear mountain skies. Well, except for the fact that all they do for ten straight minutes is fly around in slow, lazy circles as the camera zoom-cuts and shaky-pans about to make it seem like theyíre doing something thrilling. Iím not sure how this is supposed to be selling the Black Shark to anyone, especially since itís in direct competition for export orders with the very helicopter type (the Hind) that it seems unable to shoot down for the last third of the movie. If it were me, Iíd have my Black Shark just wading through a whole mess of other helicopters, destroying them by the dozens with all those snazzy rockets and ESP-guided bullets it has, really let them know how much better it is than anything else out there. Yawn. Eventually everything works out ok, bad people die, good people survive, and Black Shark literally flies off into the setting sun as a stirring patriotic dirge plays us out to the closing credits.
Oh, thatís money.
With a heavy heart Iíll admit that there were exactly three things I didnít hate about this movie. One, if you have a bunch of low-hanging black smoke, say from a burning prop tank, and you fly a helicopter through that smoke cloud, you get a cool vortex effect from the rotors that swirls the smoke around like a tight tornado. It looks very neat on camera, and itís clear that that director thought the same thing because he uses it about 350 times. Two, the casting office managed to find the one person in all of Russia who looks exactly like a 1992-era Christopher Walken to play the CIA Goon, I approve of that. And finally at the beginning of the movie thereís a short establishing scene where we see Colonel Guy drilling his troops in proper ways to blow stuff up. And then he lets his own 7-year old son come out on the range and fire a grenade launcher in front of the soldiers, because Russia. Other than those three things, this entire movie was total crap and I cut myself for watching it.
Tell me Iím wrong.
So, letís go back to my initial assumption where you're a brutal autocrat of some backwater republic. Would this movie in anyway convince you to buy a bunch of Kamov Ka-50 Black Shark helicopters for your personal army? Maybe, if you were more interested in looking cool at the next Finding Your Inner Dictator seminar than actually fielding an effective combat machine. To be honest, though, the price tag on the Black Shark was so insanely high that the Russians were really aiming more at a mid-level customer like India or Vietnam, both of whom could see past the glitz to the cost-benefit imbalance with the Ka-50. Anyway, none of you care so Iíll stop rambling. If you want to see a movie about a fancy high-tech helicopter in action, go Netflix Blue Thunder with Roy Schneider, save yourself some time and skip this one.
The End (thank god).
Written in March 2014 by Nathan Decker.
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