Thursday, 19 February 2015

Red Dawn (1984)

With top doc 'Milius' in cinemas, ERH looks back at the at the film that makes Rambo look like Rimbaud...

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Red Dawn (1984, John Milius)

Starring: Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe.

Box notables: Bomb-shelter mint. ‘Born in the USA’ iconic.

‘8:44 A.M. A full scale military invasion by foreign troops begins. Total surprise. Almost total success. A gang of high school kids become the last line of defense.’

Trailers: Raging Bull, Tin Can Alley, BIG Mistake!

Cherrypick: “Give me a grenade – I don’t wanna get cold!”

Whereas most Ex-Rent Hell material comes seeping up through the floorboards of expectation like the gut-clenching flash-flood backwash of latrine stew that eventually coagulated into the unflushable turds you see smeared across these pages, this beautifully shot and smartly directed big-budget whoop’n’holler drivel from exultant apocalyptic harbinger ‘Iron’ John Milius paratroops in through the suspended ceiling of our quality control by dint of sheer reprehensibility and a staggering balls–to-the-wall dementia that makes Rambo look like Rimbaud.

Abetted by slavering Cuban running dogs and some wigged out-of-the-box ‘What if?’ military daring on the part of Milius, a sneak Russian invasion of God Bless America begins with an entire division of battle-frenzy Commie helldivers parachuting onto the High School playing fields of Cripple’s Landing, Colorado. Quite how or why these baby-eating Bolsheviks flew such a massive complement of men and artillery through two thousand miles of US airspace to a totally indefensible spot in the very centre of a country whose security forces are surely poised on Defcon Zilch is swiftly rendered moot as the granite-hearted drones of the Evil Empire proceed to aerate everything that moves, starting with the film’s only black character.
Red Squares
Temporarily bamboozled by some sweet tactical manoeuvres resourcefully adapted from Coach Carter’s Junior High Pudknocker Playbook by skull-brained school quarterback Charlie Sheen, the vodka swilling heathens - no doubt caught up in the bloodlust of their cloven-hooved carnage – let the young Charles and a few of his better looking WASP friends slip through their borscht stained clutches. Pausing only long enough to see their school shelled back to the Stone Age (“School’s out, guy. Like, forever.”), the kids hook up with Sheen’s older brother (Patrick Swayze - who else?), loot the town bare and head up into the mountains where they learn that the whole nation is squirming beneath the iron-gloved paw of the Great Bear.

Trading their letterman jackets for snowtrooper uniforms, these Tet-Offensive teens are soon swooping down from the wintering hills and hazing the Crazy Ivans with guerrilla ambushes, psych-ops and the odd panty raid – and all this before their stones have dropped! It is on one such gusset run that they rescue feral waifs Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey, who in time bring a touch of cornfed mall-trash femininity to the boys’ barrack-room living conditions which have become, for want of a better term, fucking shocking. Not that these girls are anything less than emancipated: A few years after Red D Grey would reteam with Le Swayze for the inexplicably popular feelgood abortion drama Dirty Dancing, but here, after being mortally wounded during a miscarried sabotage mission, she resolutely demands that Patrick leave her with a solitary grenade to take an approaching column of Russkie APCs down with her – as early as 1984, it seems, Grey wanted it known that nobody, but nobody, puts Baby in the Red corner.

Do the Russians stand even a chance against such pluck? Clue: No.
Armed to the teets
With the golden hour palette of Days of Heaven, the clamorous tone of Days of Thunder and the moral weight of A Day at the Races, Red Dawn’s berserker inversion of what America had been doing to the denizens and regimes of its chosen enemy’s various strategic outposts for a good twenty years looks good, rides well, but tastes bad. While it is hardly within the remit of ERH to get overly stentorian and wade through it’s own A-hole into political waters that are far above it’s head, it is surely reasonable to say that this pointlessly splenetic contraposition of the Marshall Plan’s inevitable legacy, added to a total lack of rectitude in promulgating the virtual placebo of a conventional land war to the teen fall-out fodder of a world on the brink of nuclear showdown can’t do no right for doing wrong.

Bright spots include an invaluable snapshot of Swayze’s ineluctable rise to the Grand High Viziership of hick guru-dom that began in the boonies of Grandview USA, was consolidated on the Kentucky bluegrass of Next of Kin and would reach Zen perfection amid the fatal swells of Point Break; C. Thomas Howell going so Deer Hunter-Walken critical that his own team have to frag him; and Charlie Sheen’s lachrymose “Child torn between two fathers” Platoon rehearsal, but though these boys win their respective battles, Iron John botches the war.

Of course it may well be that Red Dawn, by hiding in such plain sight, was intended as a brash satire of American foreign policy; that Milius had baked a liberal hot potato and merely served it in a full metal jacket; that the Big Kahuna was tiring of his constant warmongery and using the tropes of blitzkrieg to send a message of brotherhood to all the victims of totalitarian colonialism… Sure - and he duetted ‘Islands in the Stream’ with Fidel Castro at the wrap party.

Get real, candy-ass!

Originally published in Little White Lies #26

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