Director: William Riead
Writer: William Riead
Cast: Tonny Tulleners, Don Murray, Ross Elliott, Robert Logan, Billy Hayes, Ross Elliott
A brief gaze at the poster for 1986’s Scorpion shows a mustachioed action ace willing to smash through glass and scuff his aviators to take down the bad guys. The actor behind the shades and flavor saver is Tonny Tulleners, a Holland-born karate black belt and winner of the 1965 International Karate Tournament in the middleweight division. Like so many real-life martial-arts champions before and after him, fighting expertise naturally guaranteed a movie deal. Also like other martial-arts champions who were guaranteed movie deals, he never did another movie after this one.
Special agent Steve Woods -- code name “Scorpion” -- is number one and the best in the field of clandestine operations and asskickings. We open with the juxtaposition of an old man leading a donkey through the quiet streets of a Spanish town and a cherry-red sportscar bombing into the parking lot of a cantina. Woods is trying to enjoy an afternoon cerveza and the rustic ambiance when an obnoxious drunk ruins the mood. Our hero goes into Scorpion mode and beats the shit out of the wino and his friends before leaving the bar, his beer unfinished and abandoned. He heads straight for a pay phone to touch base with a contact in Amsterdam, then with his agency superior based in the U.S. Within the first eight minutes of the film, Riead establishes Scorpion as a trilingual auto-enthusiast who has a habit of leaving beverages unfinished and won’t hesitate to put the hammer down if you’re being socially abrasive.
Scorpion works for the cleverly named D.I.A., and his latest assignment finds him in a hijacked commercial jet trying to thwart some unreasonable folks with olive skin and vague accents. The baddies have threatened to kill passengers if anyone from the opposition boards the plane with a weapon, so Scorpion dons some white short-shorts to prove that he’s not only unarmed but also the spitting image of Larry Bird. The terrorists discover in short time that the most dangerous weapon of all is beneath Scorpion’s clothing... his legs, you sick bastard! He kicks the shit out of them and saves the day.
The next morning, Scorpion is chilling on his house-boat and nursing what appears to be a hangover as his colleagues read the morning news and play annoying wind instruments. Scorpion is hailed as a hero in the media but they reveal his real name and his covert status is blown much like the aforementioned wind instrument. In the fallout of the attempted hijacking, Scorpion and his colleagues are also tasked with providing police protection for a material witness named Faued. An American lawyer played by Don Murray believes Faued will help the government bring down the Terror Network, which presumably consists of more evildoers with olive skin and vague accents.
As it also occurs in Bullitt, this entire set-up goes to shit and several characters needlessly die. The rest of the film follows Scorpion as he figures out the details of the botched assignment and the film takes on many of the characteristics common to the police procedural: crime scene investigations, autopsies with medical jargon, attempts at tension, chasing leads over the phone, etc. Taken individually, these components are handled well enough but on the whole, it was like an adult film directed by Michael Bay in his trademark blur-o-vision: I never figured out who was fucking who, and why or when.
This overemphasis on the investigative aspects of Scorpion’s work comes at a terrible cost: the action. One would think that a film starring a guy who beat Chuck Norris three times in actual karate competition would have a lot of fighting. With his side-swept hair and bushy moustache, Tulleners even looks like Norris. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end credits: Riead only includes about three total minutes of hand-to-hand combat. Given Tulleners’ fighting pedigree, how could they have possibly flubbed this? I’m tempted to point to Riead’s background as a TV documentary filmmaker and journalist, and Tulleners’ experience as an undercover cop with the Pasadena Police Department. Lousy do-gooders.
As Scorpion, Tulleners is serviceable. Not exactly good, but not wildly incompetent enough to be so bad he’s good. To his credit, he’s got the moustache-and-aviators theme down cold and he gets to rock some hilarious 80s fashion, including short-shorts and some high-waisted bell bottoms that do well to accentuate his freakishly long legs. You know, the ones he uses only sparingly to kick people in the face.
Despite the lack of fistkicking action, it’s worth noting that legendary Hollywood stuntman Dar Robinson worked on the film as stunt coordinator and most of the action is competently shot and edited. Scorpion features a decent helicopter vs. speedboat chase, and an excellent roof-to-roof leap that doesn’t end so well for the jumper, who lets off a familiar girly scream as he loses strength in his arms and plummets to his death. I say familiar because I used to do the same thing in college, when I failed to lift myself up to the top bunk during drunken stupors. Probably explains why the girls left the room after that.
Perhaps no 80s action movie is complete without a ham-fisted metaphor, so I wanted to mention the clumsy subplot involving one of Scorpion’s deceased colleagues and his childhood dream to push over a statue. Only after the dust settles is Scorpion able to realize that dream in his friend’s stead. What Riead attempts to shoehorn into the film as an emotional and poignant moment is instead a reminder of the issue of defacement of public property in our nation’s parks. One would think that a government man like Scorpion would know better than that.
VERDICT:I’m not entirely unsurprised that Tulleners joined a long list of lead action actors who went one-and-done. Scorpion does very little to accentuate his fighting skills, choosing instead to focus on rehashed and poorly-realized plot points from other films. As a straight martial-arts film, I can’t recommend it at all because the fight quotient is so low. However, as a crime-thriller with action elements, Scorpion is fairly solid. It’s well-paced, you’ll dig the antiquated clothing, and it has more moustaches than you can shake a stick at.
I picked up my Scorpion in the Maximum Action 10-disc set put out by BCI, which you can find on Amazon for under $5.