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Movie Review : 'Born American' Is Dead On Arrival

September 01, 1986|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Born American" (citywide) isn't just a bad movie. It's one of those flabbergasting "No-they're-not-really-going-to-do- that!" movies, in which you can barely believe your eyes and ears.

The movie is "Rambo" crossed with "Fraternity Vacation" and a bad cartoon version of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." It's an amazingly senseless movie, done with blood-curdling confidence. Each jaw-dropping howler is staged with such rattling intensity and perfect, seamless idiocy that it becomes weirdly amusing.

Picture this: Three happy-go-lucky American college buddies--a clown, a macho boozer and an intellectual (Mike Norris, Steve Durham and David Coburn) stray over the Finno-Russian border on a lark. Soon they fall into the hands of border guards, the crazed populace of "Vladimir Village" and a sex-maniac priest. And, in their confusion, they kill the priest, burn down the church, shoot a dozen soldiers and flee in a truck with the rape-victim's sister.

That should be enough insanity for one movie, but director-writer Renny Harlin and producer Markus Selin are just beginning. Now they bring in KGB man Ariatole, who ties electrodes to the boys' nipples and laughs fiendishly. His CIA counterpoint (Albert Salmi) is no better: soothing them with bland lies, then joining Ariatole for an orgy, where female prisoners are raped on the table and the two laugh fiendishly together.

Meanwhile, the clown and his friends are languishing in the local Gulag, a snowbound hell of gibbering maniacs and glowering sadists. They toil all day before socialist-realist murals, heaving coal into furnaces. As reward, they're allowed to peep into the women's showers through "Porky"-holes. If they're bad, they're forced into a bizarre "Deer Hunter"-style human chess game--where the pieces are killed.

Their only hope is the "Admiral" (Thalmus Rasulala), a king-inmate and soldier-of-fortune who comes and goes at will. The path to freedom is a rat-infested sewer; their guide the gorgeous, hot-blooded Nadja.

Does this synopsis seem absurd? We're only scratching the surface. "Born American," shot in Finland by a Finnish-American team, was banned by Finnish censors, fearful of impaired relations with the Soviets. Director Harlin--who probably deserves some sort of "Golden Clunker" award--has, at least, an excuse. He's only 26 years old.

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