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When American Hustlers Invaded Russian Hockey

Director Gabe Polsky’s “Red Penguins,” a wild documentary concerning the collision of Russian and North American hockey, readily invitations comparability with “Red Army,” Polsky’s final wild documentary a couple of totally different side of that very same collision. That’s a comparability that would enhance curiosity in “Red Penguins,” which had its world premiere on Thursday on the Toronto International Film Festival, although it additionally units an awfully excessive bar for the brand new movie.

And actually, “Red Penguins” is a dramatically totally different movie despite the floor similarities. “Red Army,” one of the acclaimed nonfiction movies of 2014, was a deep, wide-ranging have a look at the dominance of the Soviet hockey workforce within the 1970s and ’80s, and of the recruitment of 5 gamers from that workforce to the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League after the breakup of the Soviet Union. It advised a giant story, and it advised it nicely.

“Red Penguins” continues that story from a special angle, however in some methods it performs extra like a “WTF!” sidebar than a real successor to the primary movie. What offers it an additional kick, although, is {that a} “WTF!” sidebar concerning the intersection of Russian and American pursuits occurs to be awfully well timed today.

Polsky is once more analyzing worldwide relations although ice hockey – however in contrast to his story of how Russian athletes had a huge effect on the NHL, this model tells a narrative that even most hockey followers don’t learn about.

That’s as a result of it came about completely in Russia, the place the autumn of the Soviet Union left its fabled hockey workforce in a shambles. Playing in a rundown enviornment with a strip membership within the basement (I’m not making this up, and neither is Polsky), the once-dominant workforce is just about a large number in an period by which Russia was attempting to determine this capitalism factor.

So whereas some Russian stars had been headed to the U.S., a bunch of American businessmen noticed a possibility in Russia. The Russian nationwide workforce, they figured, wanted an inflow of American money and American advertising savvy – so a bunch of traders that included hockey fanatic Michael J. Fox despatched over a hyperkinetic gross sales whiz named Steve Warshaw to rework Russian hockey.

The consequence was very entertaining, with new sponsorships and a brand new brand and many enjoyable and video games within the previous hockey enviornment – actually, Warshaw even discovered a technique to put these strippers within the basement to good use on the ice.

He additionally discovered a associate in Disney’s Michael Eisner – not less than, he thought he did, or he says he thought he did. (Though Eisner didn’t consent to an interview, he denied that Disney ever thought-about investing within the Russian hockey workforce, regardless of the movie’s fairly important proof that the corporate did certainly think about it.)

Whatever actually occurred – and truthfully, it’s arduous to fully belief anyone on this movie, which is a part of the enjoyable – Disney didn’t purchase in, and Russian oligarchs and Russian mobsters bought concerned as a result of that’s apparently what they do, and every thing went to hell. Which, I suppose, is why we didn’t know this story till Polsky determined to inform it, and why “Red Penguins” feels sillier and slighter than its predecessor.

But it’s additionally a kick to look at Warshaw, affectionately (?) nicknamed “weird little bastard” by his Russian companions, wheel and take care of a batch of Russians who appear just a little extra menacing each time Polsky will get them on digital camera. And in an period by which the collision of Russian and American pursuits isn’t removed from the headlines, a bizarre little story about one loopy time these pursuits collided would possibly even educate us a factor or two.

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