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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Hard work and ingenuity can pay off. You can't always trust people. Lust for money and power can corrupt.
Positive Role Models
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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"S--t-faced." "Hell." "Bastard." "Ass." "A--hole." "Jesus" (as exclamation). A hand gives the middle finger.
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Products & Purchases
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."
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.