Red Dawn (1984)
It’s like First Blood…only with High Schoolers and Commies instead of a Green Beret killing machine and Brian Dennehy. Sure. Why not?
Red Dawn takes place in an alternate 1980s America where the Cubans and Russians have teamed up to invade a small Midwestern town because they’ve had it up to here with all this Cold War bullshit. Being that all 26 residents of the said town weren’t exactly expecting a full-scale invasion, most everyone gets lit up or corralled into jerry-rigged concentration camps…everyone except for a handful of teenagers with an endless supply of ammo, hunting rifles and spray paint that is. And since these Commie bastards have about as much combat experience as a miniature horse, these scrappy youngsters band together and start massacring every last Cuban and Russkie in sight because no one’s gonna take over their precious Walmart without a fight!
So apparently there was a remake of this that was originally scheduled to come out next weekend, but since IMDB is full of shit, here I am jumping the gun like a buffoon. Then again, it’s somewhat embarrassing that it’s taken me 24 years to finally get around to seeing this after making a habit of smiling politely and pretending like I totally knew what it meant when my friends would yell “WOLVERINES!”. All I can say is thank God for all those I Love the ’80s marathons.
But now that I’ve experienced it firsthand, I’m thinking my expectations might have been a bit too high.
Yeah, times have changed since the Cold War and these days I think we’d have a better chance of Vladimir Putin landing a spot on Dancing with the Stars than the Soviets launching a full-out assault on American soil, but I guess people were pretty freaked out by the Reds back then, huh? I really can’t say much on the matter since I was spending most of my days kickin’ it in the womb or finger painting like a mofo back then, but they couldn’t have been this freaked out. I can only assume that the thinking behind this movie was somewhat equivalent to the way I talk to my friends about how I’m going to survive the zombie apocalypse (an Escalade, a shotgun, and an Andrew W.K. mix CD), but aside from all the death and stuff, I would have a total blast with that and it’s not like I lose sleep over it either.
With that in mind, it’s kind of hard to take this premise seriously. What’s even harder to take seriously is how seriously this movie takes itself. I mean, come on, this premise is pretty fuckin’ ridiculous. Can’t knock it for being epic because if your movie wasn’t epic in the ’80s, you were probably still wearing bell-bottoms, but when you throw High Schoolers in with your AK-47s and carpet bombs, and the whole one-man-army formula just doesn’t gel quite so reliably as it once did.
It’s crazy, man. Watching this, I really felt like it was written by our hero of the hour, Jed Eckert – an All-American High School quarterback/red-blooded country boy from the middle of nowhere whose favorite book is The Red Badge of Courage and whose favorite movie is Conan the Destroyer. It’s just that the writers, the actors and the characters are for some reason dead serious about this premise and don’t so much as crack a “Why did the Cuban cross the road?” joke do lighten the mood. The dialogue is outrageously cheesy, the whole stab at a morality side plot about how “war changes men, even bloodthirsty 16-year-olds” is dumb as hell, and the bad guys have a veritable arsenal at their fingertips yet they’re getting wiped out by a bunch of kids who haven’t even gotten to second base and are living off of beans in the woods.
If you’re rolling your eyes, you’re on the level.
Maybe I just didn’t know what to expect, but while a whole lot of this is forgivable, a little sense of humor would have gone a long way.
All the same, Patrick Swayze plays Jed Eckert, and I will never say a bad word about Swayze ’til my dying day, so that right there is a selling point. I must have gone a full hour thinking it was Emilio, but Charlie Sheen plays Jed’s brother, Matt, and I think my confusing him with Gordon Bombay is about as much as an endorsement as I can give. There’s also C. Thomas Howell who’s pretty damn bad as the trigger-happy Robert, Lea Thompson who’s pretty damn bad as Erica, and Jennifer Grey who’s pretty damn bad as Toni. Whatever, not like I was expecting much and not like they take away from the movie as a whole, but with the exception of Swayze, all these characters kinda blow.
Bonus points for bit roles from Harry Dean Stanton and Powers Boothe though.
But for all its failures and bizarre approaches at creating a credibly storyline by treating it like The Breakfast Club-meets-Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn still has a good deal of awesomeness to make it fun. Big explosions, pretty inspired premise even if it is totally half-baked, and it’s just some good, mindless, super-violent ’80s action. If it had taken itself with a grain of salt, I would have dug this a lot more than I did, but I can see why it’s become a cult classic of sorts and this is the kind of thing I could see myself going to a midnight showing of in the future. Yeah, I’d probably be drunk and tagging along with friends who worship the damn thing, but that’s a-okay. Some movies just need to be seen that way.
Really hope that remake isn’t one of those shot-for-shot deals though.