davidehrlich’s review published on Letterboxd:
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 on the day after Christmas, American speculators were presented with the ultimate gift: An opportunity to sell capitalism to one of the largest untapped markets in the history of time. For Russians, however, the shift away from communism was hesitant and fraught with uncertainty, and some of the country’s proudest institutions began to languish without the state-funded support that had allowed them to thrive behind the Iron Curtain. Business relations between the two superpowers were tantalizing in theory, but difficult to make real, and the ice was slower to thaw than many people on either side might have hoped. Of course, that wasn’t a problem for anyone who knew how to skate.
An amusing sequel of sorts to his 2014 documentary “Red Army,” Gabe Polsky’s slight but insightful “Red Penguins” tells the wild story of what happened when the greatest hockey team in the history of the universe found itself on the brink of extinction, and some of the most visionary and/or foolish executives of the American sports arena tried to swoop in and save it. More than a cock-eyed peek back at an unprecedented culture clash, the film provides a bittersweet glimpse at a small, stained-glass window of time when anything seemed possible, and the concept of change was rich with promise.
Eighty minutes isn’t long enough to capture the full scope of what happened when oligarchs rose to power and Russia began to mutate faster than its legal system could keep up, and Polsky’s film — which leans on a few crucial talking heads rather than reaching for a broader spectrum of voices — often feels like it’s playing shorthanded. Nevertheless, the entertaining historical footnote that “Red Penguins” exhumes is wacky enough to earn this new oxygen, and Polsky’s narrow focus allows this tale of entrepreneurial folly to resolve as a pinhole inside the world’s greatest power struggle.