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I am a 60-year old Russian born in Estonia (a Baltic country annexed
and occupied by Russia 1940-1991). I have travelled a lot by hitch-hike
around the USSR and seen what the life was like there. I know the grim
Russian reality first-hand.
That is why I disagree with a comment saying that Born American "is a bad, bad film and it's made worse by the fact that it portrays every level of Russian society in a very unflattering manner".
In fact, the film is realistic -- therefore its portrait of the Russian society is unflattering. The Finnish producer seems to know much more about the real life in Russia than many in the West. Later the film turns into an 'action'. But the general picture of the Soviet-time Russia is true.
Until the Soviet bloc collapsed this film could not be demonstrated here: it was banned. Moreover, Moscow made a protest to the Finnish government, even demanding that the film be banned from cinemas in Finland! Can there be a better proof that the film demonstrates the Soviet/Russian reality in a honest way?
Indeed, for a person in the West it may be hard to believe that such reality can exist. But may I tell you that an elderly Estonian exile once told of having cried watching a film about Russian slave labour camps, while other western audience laughed. People just couldn't believe it was possible -- but she knew, and she cried.
Valeri Kalabugin Tallinn, Estonia
This movie begins as one of those young-Americans-on-a-European-vacation
affair. Then it shifts into an action-thriller as our three heroes, on a
lark, sneak across the border into the USSR and are captured by Russian
border-guards. At this point it becomes a grim prison drama laced with
surrealistic touches. Then the final scene offers a hint of a boy-meets-girl
While the movie doesn't quite succeed as a whole, individual parts worked well enough to propel Finnish director Renny Harlin all the way to Hollywood. Perhaps the best of these parts is the justly-famous torture scene in which a well-dressed interrogator who could pass as a college professor calmly, almost lovingly, attaches alligator clips to the nipples of Steve Durham in a series of screen-filling close-ups. These clips are attached by wires to a portable generator and soon Durham is jerking in pain from electrical shocks. However, the interrogator doesn't get the information he seeks so he concludes with a comment that he has all the time he needs in order to complete his task. (A better line might have included the thought that those alligator clips could be re-attached to other, even more sensitive parts of Durham's anatomy.)
Also worth noting are the scenes of a chess game played with prisoners instead of chess pieces, though not enough is made of this material.
Top-billed Mike Norris shows enough promise here that one wonders why his later film-career was so undistinguished. Albert Salmi and Thalmus Rasulala provide good support in small but pivotal roles. As for Steve Durham, he must be the only actor in the movies whose nipples are more recognizable than his face.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the kind of film that only could have been made during the mid
80s. It was advertised as a Rambo-style action flick here in the
states. Back then, as a junior high kid, I was really pumped to see it.
The film ended up being an interesting, but largely unfocused story of
three young American men who take an unwarranted trip into the Soviet
Union and pay a big price for it.
The three protagonists are two Alpha-males and a nerd. One of the Alpha-males was played by Chuck Norris' son, if I recall. These three are driving around Finland above the arctic circle shooting guns, guzzling beers, and taking pictures. After stumbling around in the woods for a while, they come across the border to the USSR. And like idiots, they decide to sneak over to the other side for fun. This is all within the first 10 minutes. After that, one bad thing after another happens to them, leaving the viewer little choice but to feel that these jokers had it coming.
First off, they are blamed for the killing of a local village girl. When we find out who really did the killing, that is one of the more intriguing points of the film. I wish the film could have just stayed in the village and explored this plot rather than jumping the tracks and moving on to more ridiculous elements later on. Anyway, the three are set to be executed, and somehow elude their captors in an incredibly violent shootout. Now on the run, with one of their party wounded, the three are easy prey for Soviet troops as they try to make their way back to Finland.
Of course, the boys are captured in one of those typical "border scenes" where all the spotlights are instantly turned on, revealing the helpless victims who are now at the mercy of the evil commies. After being brutally interrogated, the three are dumped into a gulag somewhere in Siberia to be forgotten. The place is no Kolyma, but it certainly would suck to be in there. Not only are the conditions rough for regular prisoners, but beneath the prison is a game of human chess! Real people are used for pieces, and the losers are apparently killed! Yes! I have never seen anything like that in a movie before. Too bad they don't spend enough time dealing with this game, or the people who play it.
Finally, with the help of a mysterious prisoner the lone remaining American is able to fight his way out of the prison and escape with a young woman he has fallen in love with along the way. All this in just over 90 min!!! This film was directed by a now-famous Renny Harlin. He demonstrates some genuine skill with the limited budget this film obviously had. The problems are more at the screenplay level. Too many questions are not answered, and too many paths not properly explored. Just who in the hell was "The Admiral"? He was no David Robinson; that's for sure. What was he doing in the prison? What were his plans once he got out? And how in the heck was the last American going to get out of the USSR?? After all the damage he did??? Come on! The film could have been much better, but it still manages to hold some interest. Good luck finding this one on TV, but a spare copy of it is no doubt floating around on Amazon or somewhere like that.
5 of 10 stars. The Hound has spoken.
If I were to pick two words to describe this movie it would be unbelievable and unpredictable. Unpredictable because not a single moment of this movie could be foretold. And unbelievable because it has above a 4 rating on this website. This movie doesn't deserve the use of stars, it should be given its own rating system of awful, like a 5 rectum review or something. I mean this movie stinks up something awful, so awful I had no choice but to express my sincere concern that someone else might one day view this movie, or worse pay for it. Please dont... Renny (the brilliant director of other favorites such as Cutthroat Island and Driven) has presented something truly unique to the world of cinema this time however. No protagonists and no antagonists, at least no clear ones, any time we start to develop any kind of sympathy for a character he kills them! any time something happens in this movie it is wasted, unused, unexplained. Here this should sum up the movie: 3 kids go to Finland (for spring break i guess, it has become quite the hotspot) and within 2 minutes are driving to the north pole for no reason. We soon find out that 2 of these guys are your traditional jocks/heros and one is a worthless nerd. The jocks bring guns and a bow and arrow set while the nerd just has unbelievably nerdy things for a vacation like, a camera! and clothes! and food! Our "protagonists" pick on the one normal and decent character in this movie to the point where A) its unbelievable they would be friends let alone the best of friends and B) we hate the kid too. They then shoot a few things on the border of lapland and Russia (during the cold war mind you) and decide it would be best to cross the border with their weapons to "check it out,'" like the ground would be paved with gold and the streams would flow with vodka. They then forcefully kidnap a girl so they can tell her "not to be scared," I mean i fully thought they were gonna rape this girl, but it turns out they just wanted to ask some questions. The girl screams and as you would expect they are then captured by villagers and accused of murdering a small girl by an occultist/demon possessed priest (no explanation of course) who has brain washed a village... So our americans kill everyone... EVERYONE! The military shows up so they kill more. You may be thinking... Why is this guy giving away the whole movie. I'M NOT, THIS IS ALL IN THE FIRST 10 MINUTES!!!! we havent even gotten to the HUMAN CHESS MATCH where the opponents fight to the death (apparently remmy doesnt quite get the concept of chess, what if the pawn took the knight when the knight was taking the pawn? well thats giving this movie too much credit). I watch bad movies a lot. If you are looking for one you've found it. Its damned funny, and a wonderful example in what drugs you should never take when you are on a deadline to make a movie. Just please understand, in no way is this movie good. It couldnt be good if it tried, it breaks every rule of film, theater, story, human relation, history, etc. This movie just, sucks.
So what is the truth about 'Born American' (or Arctic Heat)? The full
truth is, that it is a debut movie of an action director who has done
couple of hits and a couple of misses. And despite of its childish and
almost propaganda like portrayal of the soviets, it does have a couple
of interesting scenes in it.
It's easy to say, and see, that BA is an product of its era. Cold war was on and Soviet Union was seen as a huge menace. It's not only action film painting this kind of images about the soviet union, but maybe it is one with the most over the top approach, as almost all the Russians are shown as dirty and almost barbaric lunatics.
The plot is quite simple: three Americans are exploring Finland and they decide to cross the border to Soviet Union. The silly sods venture deeper into the Russia and are soon caught, which leads into an action scene, where almost everything explodes or burns down. Later, when the yanks are taken into the prison/labor camp the movie turns towards so unrealistic direction, that you don't know to laugh or to cry.
'Born American' isn't Harlins best movie, but surprisingly enough it ain't his worst either. It lacks the fluent movement of more experienced director, but over all as a debut movie it has some merits working for it. In 80's standards the action works pretty well and out of all brainless action movies made during that era it fits in pretty well with the rest of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Freedom is a word....Until you lose it." In the 80's, there was glut
of movies about the conflict between America and Russia. Some notable
examples include: Red Dawn (1984), Russkies (1987), Red Heat (1988),
and later there was Armstrong (1998) with the classic tagline: "The
Cold War is heating up..." Oft-forgotten among these more well-known
titles, is "Born American". This time around, three American party
dudes, Savoy Brown (Norris), Mitch (Steve Durham), and K.C. (David
Coburn), rather than go to a warm, tropical climate, decide to drink
beer and enact their wacky shenanigans on the snow-filled border
between Finland and Russia.
Sure, everything is going swell between their sessions of shooting their giant bow & arrow at playing cards and doing the limbo under the actual border, but for a fun time prank, Savoy decides it would be a real hoot to cross over some barbed wire and some armed guard towers into Russian territory.
Unfortunately, after a mix up or two involving the humongous bow & arrow, now the whole town is after them. The gang is taken in for questioning and the evil warden thinks they are a terrorist group. So they are thrown into prison. The place is a rat-infested hellhole and K.C. is injured and slowly dying. Luckily, there is "The Admiral" (Rasulala), a friendly American who lives in the basement of the prison and works for the C.I.A.
It all comes to a head when the gang is forced into a deadly game of human chess that involves some light punchfighting. Will Savoy and his buddies escape the prison with their life intact? Just imagine a cross between the aforementioned "Red Dawn" and Midnight Express (1978). Norris later of Death Ring (1992) fame does a non-silly (as opposed to later in his career) job as Savoy. He even yells not once, not twice, but three fan favorite yells: "NOOOOOOooo!" He also has the prerequisite training sequence before the big human chess match. There are some rocket launcher blow-ups that are welcome.
The problems are: the movie takes itself way too seriously. Also it is hard to feel bad for the gang because they are in this predicament because of their own stupid decisions.
All in all, "Born American" is a decent addition to the 80's-movie-fascination-with-the-cold-war-with-Russia boom.
For more insanity, please visit: comeuppancereviews.com
BORN American marked the feature directorial debut of Renny Harlin who
in fact went on to direct well known films like PRISON, A NIGHTMARE ON
ELM STREET 4, DIE HARD 2, CLIFFHANGER and DEEP BLUE SEA, just to name a
This film however is actually pretty good, its not a masterpiece but definitely worth seeing, many people have said this film is far fetched it actually isn't, it is pretty accurate in its portrayal of the events it depicts and of the soviets which it does in a really unflattering way, the story itself is fictional.
The acting is actually very good, the best performances are given by Mike Norris and David Coburn, who pretty much carry the film.
Overall, Even though its not a masterpiece it is worth seeing, the acting is great and the direction is handle very well by then first time director Renny Harlin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Born American/Arctic Heat (any which way you like it) is a pretty nice
English-language directing debut from Finlands gift to Hollywood, Renny
SPOILER WARNING! The story evolves around three American boys hiking in Finnish Lapland. In a jestful mood they find themselves entering the Soviet Union illegally, just to be accused of killing a young village girl, get in a fight, burn down a village, kill a priest and a couple of Russian soldiers. Of course the KGB gets their hands on the boys, who are then locked and buried in a Dante'esquire prison in Siberia, where they will learn the true meaning of suffering.
The film is no ground breaker in any sense, the plot is quite predictable, the acting varies in standard and the overall execution is very low budget. Nevertheless, the film provides some high tension, a sympathetic tale of friendship and a very creepy, dark and suggestive feeling of claustrophobia. The film is shot in Finland, using Finnish actors as Russians, providing very believable characters, who actually (as opposed to many American movies of that era) speak Russian!
The young American guys are unfortunately a setup of B- or even C-actors, even though Mike Norris in the leading role does step up a notch towards the end of the film. David Coburn does exactly what he is supposed to, without a single hint of charisma or artistic integrity and Steve Durham's performance is just sad. American veteran Thalmus Rasulala provides some stiff and wooden acting as the mysterious Admiral, general of the inmates. The truly original performances are provided by the Finnish actors, many of them among the elite in their home country. Especially haunting is the portrait of the well-meaning and haunted chess genius Kapsky, played by master actor Vesa Vierikko.
All in all, an adequate international debut from Harlin. Some plot lines could have been developed further, it looks a bit as if the crew ran out of money (or imagination) somewhere along the production. Anyone who is looking for a glimpse of what Siberian prisons really looked like during the Soviet era will be disappointed, this is pure fiction. Harlin already shows his great visual skills, both as a camera operator and as a special effects expert. Sadly, the script is a bit too thin and even a bit corny at times and the lack of funding shows.
Born American (GB title: Arctic Heat) is a bad, bad film and it's made worse
by the fact that it portrays every level of Russian society in a very
unflattering manner. I'm well aware that at the time of this film's release,
relations between the US and the USSR were strained, but the offensive
depiction of Russians in this film is enough to drive even an American
viewer for the exits!
The story concerns three young Americans vacationing in the Arctic Circle region of Finland. Whilst deer hunting, they stray into Russia and in their efforts to escape they inadvertently decimate a small town and its army garrison. After all that, they are captured anyway, and find themselves thrown into a Siberian prison camp where they are to be forgotten forever, thus cancelling out any embarrassment or tension their actions might have caused between the two war-mongering nations.
The drab and freezing prison scenes are boring, but they at least convey Russian prison conditions effectively. The part of the film that displeases me most is the ludicrous, violent episode in which the three Americans try to shoot their way out of the Russian village. No disrespect, but if three men from any nation did that in another country (other than their own), surely it would be only right and proper for them to be thrown into jail for a very long time. This film asks us to sympathise with them, but in my opinion they deserved all the punishment they received..... and more! Don't bother with this film. It's xenophobic and offensive in the extreme.
A "first movie" for a director is often quite interesting to watch.
Sometimes the movie is excellent, sometimes full of film student stuff
and pretentious tricks and usually tries too hard with too little. Born
American is of the third variety.
The story follows three guys who are vacationing in Finland and cross over the border to the Soviet Union. Guess if the Soviets are depicted as interesting characters or something else (hint: this movie was made in the 1980s)? Anyway, things start exploding (often with the same sound effect). Also the Russians prove to be evil etc. Which is sort of interesting considering there was some tendency to self-censoring in Finland towards these kinds of things.
The plot is actually quite ridiculous because it goes way over the top at one point. It really feels like they had made the movie up to that point and they noticed they have way more money left so they added more things - or bought some of that new crack-cocaine. Some twists really made me laugh out loud in their outlandishness or how cliché they were.
Actually, if this movie starred Chuck Norris, for whom it originally was planned, it would be quite well known after that Chuck Norris revival fad. Now it's just a curiosity for anyone interested. As a Finn, I'm ashamed of this movie by Renny Harlin (he DID make a few good movies, though. I still like you, Renny). Ashamed and also proud, few countries have something unifying like this that people all around the world can laugh at.
The bottom line: DIY MST3K.
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