Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Red Dawn

The Reagan years. Remember them? Overflowing with day-glo pants and Cold War paranoia. And man, what paranoia it was. Seriously, as a child I feared being nuked back to the Stone Age more than just about anything. And Hollywood was no help, churning out films like The Day After, or this thing: An NRA-fueled Brat-pack masturbation fantasy.

If you aren't familiar with the plot, allow me to sum it up. Soviets invade a small Colorado town, and a small group of high schoolers take up arms as a guerilla brigade to defeat them. The premise is, of course, completely absurd, but it might have been fun if the film didn't take itself so goddamned seriously. No, this isn't entertainment, it's a dire warning.

The dialogue is ridiculous throughout, delivered without a hint of self-consciousness or irony, all punctuated with an overly dramatic score. Take this choice bit of scripting, as Lea Thompson notes in the most maudlin tone imaginable "Things are different now." No shit, the Cubans have seized Colorado.

Or, after a particularly bloody battle Charlie Sheen ponders "It's kind of strange, isn't it? How the mountains pay us no attention at all. You laugh or you cry... The wind just keeps on blowing." Again, this schlock might be fun if everyone wasn't being so sincere.

The characters themselves are all pretty one dimensional, with only two having any sort of development. First off is Robert, played by C. Thomas Howell, who gradually goes from whiny momma's boy to bloodthirsty killer. And there's Col. Bella, disenchanted Cuban commander witnessing his beloved socialist revolution fade to a brutal fascist dictatorship.

The film is otherwise filled with Brat Packers and character actors (including Harry Dean Stanton, Ben Johnson, Ron O'Neal, Lane Smith, with Pepe Serna once again proving he'll appear in just about anything) with no more personality than their costumes dictate.

But really, what characterization does any of them beyond that? Commies are bad, everyone knows this. The Russians, Cubans, Nicaraguans understand nothing but brutality. And the American boys and girls, well, they're just as sweet as apple pie and Coca-Cola.

But how do these good little kids manage to defeat the well-trained armies of Mother Russia? I dunno, pure moxie, I guess. The film ticks off the months from September to February, chronicling defeat after defeat of invading forces at the hands of the high school football team and their prom dates. The kid's numbers do thin, little by little, until there are only two surviving, and yet the pair still somehow manages to invade the enemy encampment and lay it to waste.

I think the message here is train your kids well, as their marksmanship skills may be all that stands between them and a Sergei Eisenstein film fest.

It's ridiculous movie on all levels, which can be entertaining if done right. Unfortunately the film is so jingoistic and self-important, it's almost as if it's parodying itself, while completely unaware it's doing so. It sounds fun. It's not.

Directed by John Milius • PG-13 • 1984 • 114 minutes

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