Three months ago, intrepid Lead Contributor Justin began keeping us abreast of the latest news concerning the upcoming release of the Red Dawn remake. Like Justin, I was at first intrigued by Chris Hemsworth’s latest feature, especially considering I’ve enjoyed his roles thus far. With it’s release just one week away, what better time than now to finally queue the original Red Dawn?
A Soviet Union wheat shortage, unrest in South America and the dissolution of NATO signals that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. In the sleepy little All-American town of Calumet, Colorado, enemy soldiers literally descend upon the town and, after quickly killing the Town’s one black man, the high school history teacher (Frank McRae), lay siege upon the heartland. In the chaos, Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) rescues his brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) and a handful of other young men and together they seek refuge in the mountains. Months pass, the war drags on, and the boys, surviving forty-miles behind enemy lines, begin to employ guerrilla tactics against the invading forces and adopt the moniker of their high school mascot, the Wolverines, as a symbol of hope.
I’m not sure why I would not have watched Red Dawn growing up; maybe after Red Heat, Red Scorpion, and Red Sonja I’d had my fill of red-titled films. I really wish I had seen it in my youth because my cinematic innocence might have tempered my wholeheartedly negative opinion. At least in my youth, I would have seen this among friends and we might have sat around laughing at this tedious turd, but curling up by my adult lonesome to give Red Dawn an honest, first shake has left me with only bitterness.
At the onset, it’s not entirely clear who exactly is attacking Calumet or why. I assumed the Soviets had decided to attacked Calumet to cripple what KGB intel had deduced was the hub of the American baking powder industry. The resulting lack of leavened breads and increase in yeasty products would somehow send America into turmoil. I, and audiences, discover this is not the case when, well over halfway through the movie, U.S. Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe), crashes behind enemy lines, is found by the Wolverines, and he debriefs them of the situation. The situation is that Soviets, Nicaraguans, and Cubans have occupied America from the Rockies to the Mississippi. I’m not sure which is stranger; his story or seeing it coming from a baby-faced Boothe.
The bigger, WWIII picture isn’t crucial to Red Dawn. Neither are things like dialogue, character development, or plot logistics. Swayze’s Jed is the only character given depth, proven by his big “Don’t Cry. Hold it Back.” speech and his weariness over the mantle of leader. The remaining boys are so underdeveloped and underutilized they are indistinguishable from one another; save C. Thomas Howell’s Robert who’s identifiable because, ironically, he wears a face mask. Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey portray the group’s only two women Erica and Toni. Mr. Mason (Ben Johnson), worried what the Soviet troops might do to the girls, sends them with Jed and the boys to their isolated mountain camp for their safety. Seriously. What can you expect from the guy who warns Jed about skulking around Calumet because, and I quote, “People waking up with their throats cut.” Seriously.
Even worse is neither Colonel Bella (Ron O’Neal) and the Captain (Judd Omen) of the Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan army nor the Wolverines’ hunter, Strelnikov (William Smith), have an answer to the problem that is these eight young Americans. Considering their strategies include setting up a roadside firing squad beneath a rocky cliff to give the Wolverines the high-ground ambush advantage, I’m more surprised the army survived against Jed and his posse as long as they did. These repeated military encounters are made worse because the shots lack momentum, the action instead resembling posed still images.
Red Dawn is so damned earnest an effort to make a thoughtful film that the thoughtlessness of its individual scenes make it inadvertently entertaining. Guess that’s a long winded way of saying Red Dawn is so bad its good, but that’s a theory I would only test if you and seven of your friends can sit around and poke fun at its weaknesses.