on Blu-ray to coincide with the rather desperate and unconvincing
Olympic hype we’re currently having shoved down our throats
(though you hope Anchor Bay have avoided mention of that event
on the sleeve, or they might get charged with ‘ambush marketing),
this 1994 effort is a late entry into the traditional big dumb
action film stakes – a genre that had its heyday in the
1980s, but by this time was on its last legs.
Starring Dolph Lundgren – the last of a line of muscle-bound
non-actors from Europe who specialised in this sort of thing –
Pentathlon is a strange hybrid, much like the
event it’s based around. Lundgren plays Eric Brogar, an
East German pentathlete who we first see being brutalised by fiendish
coach Heinrich Mueller (David Soul) as a child, and then winning
gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics before defecting to America. Years
later, Brogar is a broken, bitter alcoholic living in Los Angeles,
while Mueller and his former Stasi colleagues are Neo-Nazi terrorists
(because, you know, Communists, Nazis, they’re all pretty
much the same thing) who come to America for some ill-defined
reason, only for Mueller’s obsession with Brogar to get
the better of him. As a reformed Brogar trains for the 1996 Olympics,
Mueller dithers between carrying out a terrorist bombing and getting
his revenge on Brogar.
All silliness aside, Pentathlon is not awful,
and has some interesting things going on behind the surface. The
idea that Brogar would feel guilty for escaping East Germany –
and causing the death of his death friend – only to see
the Berlin Wall come down and Communism collapse within a year
is quite a good one, though the film doesn’t really develop
it much; before you know it, a reformed Brogar is back training
and hooking up with ex-girlfriend Renee Coleman. Coleman is very
much the weak link here – she’s oddly unappealing,
has zero chemistry with Lundgren (who is no great actor, but holds
his own in this simple role) and adds little to the ongoing drama.
David Soul, on the other hand, is on top form, gleefully going
over the top as the demented Mueller, yet still able to give his
villain more character than you’d expect.
The film itself is a bit of an odd effort. It actually works better
as a sporting story of redemption than as an action film, the
fight scenes lacking energy. The ham-fisted politics and hokey
characters raise a few inadvertent chuckles, but in the end this
seems to be an action film whose heart isn’t really in it.
That is still works is curious, and something that I can’t
attribute to anything in particular – but while hardly ground-breaking,
Pentathlon is 90 minutes that passes painlessly,
and that fact alone puts it several notches above most of the
output of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme and Seagal.
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