Red Penguins

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Red Penguins Movie Poster Image
Entertaining, fascinating sports doc has violence, language.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 80 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Hard work and ingenuity can pay off. You can't always trust people. Lust for money and power can corrupt.

Positive Role Models & Representations

American businesspeople and marketing strategists invest in and transform a dying Russian hockey team into a thriving business. Their methods are untraditional but legitimate, though they claim their Russian counterparts are stealing from them and spying on them.

Violence

Russian mafia are said to be a constant threat, are blamed for murders of several people, with some dead bodies shown. Main subject has to leave Russia when a bounty is placed on his head. As Russian authorities lose control following 1993 political crisis involving military action, chaos erupts: bombs, car fires, street fights, riots, military tank incursions, shootings. Interviewees describe how random thugs and police officers stop people on street, steal from them, hurt them, bribe them. Story of a bear biting off a man's finger. Even in present day, live interview is shut down when documentary's director is intimidated by approaching police in Moscow.

Sex

Near-naked women in "pasties and a G-string" dance in a strip club, later as makeshift cheerleaders on hockey ice. Men wander around bare-bottomed in sauna. Hockey player says he traded his team jacket "for a sexual favor." A man poses in a photo with his hands suggestively placed on two female mannequins. Closing credits include hand-drawn sketch of a penis.

Language

"S--t-faced." "Hell." "Bastard." "Ass." "A--hole." "Jesus" (as exclamation). A hand gives the middle finger.

Consumerism

A range of brands, products are displayed and/or discussed, often as sponsors or advertisers of hockey teams, including Nike, Adidas, Disney, Mickey Mouse, The Mighty Ducks, Sudden Death, Delta, Little Caesars, Baskin-Robbins, Seagrams 7, Gillette, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Pepsi, Pittsburgh Brewing Company, Vick's Cough Drops, Milka. Other brands glimpsed include Citibike, Reebok, Polo. Archive footage shows logos of Russian TV stations plus American ones like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol, drinking problems, past drunken behavior are discussed. "Everybody's drunk in Russia," one person says; another calls it "normal" to drink excessively. People drink vodka, beer, wine. A bear drinks a beer as part of an act. Teenagers are said to get drunk on beer during hockey matches. End credits include drawing of Mickey Mouse slumped over with caption "Stoned Again."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Red Penguins is an entertaining and educational documentary about the opportunities, challenges, and dangers of doing business in Russia in the 1990s. While there's plenty to learn about the political and social situation that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the documentary also includes potentially upsetting stories and images, including some graphic, about mafia hits, drunken behavior, and criminal activity. Archive footage shows chaos and violence erupting on the streets of Moscow. People affiliated with the interviewees are said to be killed by the mafia, and the main subject of the documentary has to leave Russia when he finds out there could be a bounty on his head. A live interview is shut down when the documentary's director is intimidated by approaching police on the streets of Moscow. Women and men both are seen partially naked or scantily clad, a sketch of a penis is included in the end credits, and there's talk of strip clubs and sexual favors. Language includes "s--t-faced," "hell," "bastard," "ass," "a--hole," and "Jesus." A range of brands and products are displayed and/or discussed, often as sponsors or advertisers of hockey teams.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydickthefuck... August 3, 2020

Stunning!

PG-13: suggestive/nude images, intense violence, bloody scenes and language
Adult Written byDaniel L. August 1, 2020

Made me cry

PG-13: suggestive images, violence and language

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

American businesspeople invest in the Russian military's failing hockey team and transform the newly rebranded RED PENGUINS into a money-making sensation. It's the 1990s, and the timing seems auspicious because Russia has just transitioned to democracy and opened up to capitalist investments. But the Americans find that they're up against a series of insurmountable challenges and dangers. At first, the marketing maverick sent to oversee the team's revival, Steven Warshaw, enjoys dazzling success, drawing huge stadium crowds with eccentric halftime shows featuring strippers, bikini contests, zoo animals, and luxury giveaways. But the corruption, criminality, and chaos of the setting, and the disloyalty of local partners, eventually undermine the team's viability as a business venture. The documentary mixes archive footage with interviews, in English and Russian, with more than a dozen key people involved in the story.

Is it any good?

This is a fascinating and entertaining tale that's more about Russian history than Russian hockey. If you're looking for the latter, try Red Army, the 2015 documentary by the same Russian American director, Gabe Polsky. Red Penguins' narrative arc neatly parallels both Boris Yeltsin's presidency and the emotional experience of the Americans involved in the Russian hockey team -- from the excitement of reinventing a beloved national franchise at the dawn of Russia's '90s-era democracy, to the thrill of puzzling out a new culture with wildly successful marketing campaigns, to the eventual realization that rampant corruption and criminal activity would cut the entire venture short.

The story isn't told exclusively from the Americans' perspective, and the Russians interviewed -- including journalists, a reputed mafioso, former KGB agents and military officers, and people involved with the hockey team -- offer mixed recollections of the same experiences. Polsky does an impressive job exploring his sources' personalities, and perhaps even probing their authenticity, leaving the camera on them as they react to their own stories, often with evident emotion concerning the relationships, people, hopes, and dreams left behind.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Russia's transition to democracy as it's depicted in Red Penguins. What do you know about this historical period? How could you learn more?

  • The interviewees tell different stories about the past. Who did you trust more, and why? Do you think a documentary maker has a responsibility to tell all sides to a story? How can he or she try to substantiate what sources say on camera?

  • Steven Warshaw was wildly successful at marketing the Red Penguins initially. What did you think of his unconventional methods?

  • At the end of the documentary, one source says "Americans destroyed the Soviet Union." What do you make of this critique? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Movie details

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