Red Dawn isn’t a new, crimson dish soap. It’s not a new anything. It’s an update of John Milius’ classic bad movie from 1984. Back then, the Evil Empire was the Soviet Union, the Gipper was in the White House and Americans went to bed every night fearing an invasion by the powerful Nicaraguan and Cuban armies coming up from Mexico disguised as migrant workers.
Fast forward over 25 years and . . .
The United States has been invaded yet again by the forces of evil. After War of the Worlds, you’d think they’d know better, but they keep on coming. The Soviet Union is no more, which may be good for Eastern Europeans but bad for Hollywood. Hollywood needs villains, especially foreign villains, and the USSR was a great villain. But there’s still a Russia, and apparently the Russkies still want us all dead. I can’t imagine why, unless it’s the quality of our movies that pisses them off. Anyway, the Russians have found a mighty and frightening new ally:
Red Dawn focuses on a group of Spokane high school students led by a gen-u-wine Marine recently returned from the sandbox as they try to defend the 509 from the oppressive yoke of the entire North Korean army. The teenage resistance group calls themselves “Wolverines,” commemorating their bad football team which happily has played its last game for a long, long time.
The writers of the new Red Dawn had initially cast China, not North Korea, as the new Yellow Peril. Then the producers figured out that (1) the PRC would never blow up Wal-Mart because then there’d be nobody left to sell all that cheap Chinese crap, (2) the US owes China a ton of moolah and an invasion would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and finally (3) there’s no profit in alienating a market a of 1.3 billion potential movie goers with pockets full of yuan who are so gullible that they actually believe that a Buick is a status symbol.
What was the director to do? The movie was already in the can and there was no way he could pass off a bunch of Asian actors as Cubans with narrow eyes and bad haircuts. Then he had a brainstorm, or perhaps it was a cerebrovascular accident. The call went out to the CGI boys to change all the logos from Red Chinese to North Korean and — presto change-o — the new Red Dawn was rebuilt on a premise every bit as absurd as the first one.
All movies depend to some extent on the suspension of disbelief. In the case of Red Dawn, it’s more a slurry than a suspension. But still, the film has many enjoyable moments, especially when the North Korean Army blows up huge swathes of Spokane in an effort to destroy our shopping malls. Haven’t we all felt that way, especially around the holidays?
The battle scenes are really good, especially the initial invasion where a million North Korean paratroopers swarm over Spokane in the middle of the day like uninvited beer-loving party crashers at a backyard barbecue. Epic.
And where was the American military while the enemy airborne was fluttering down like so many polynoses? Why, our defenses and communications had been disabled by a massive EMP that fried the grid and made our nukes as ineffective as a flaccid member. Movie saved! If the writers couldn’t find a way to neutralize the largest nuclear force on earth, they would have had to change the name of the film from Red Dawn to Nuclear Winter.
Ah, but the fiendishly clever North Koreans have a magical iPhone that enables them to communicate with each other like overactive teenagers while our powerless boys are reduced to sending smoke signals and beating on tom-toms. The quest to capture the magic box is a pivotal plot device. I won’t go any further because I don’t want to ruin it for you.
What made the original movie a “classic” was its great cast. Future stars like Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey lit up the screen. Acting veterans like Oscar-winner Ben Johnson, Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and William Smith lent gravitas to what was really just a piece of fluff. And then there was Ron O’Neal’s performance as Col. Bella, the Cuban commander with a heart of gold. Only Col. Bella could line up and execute a bunch of American townies, then write a touching letter home to the wife. Brilliant.
The current cast wasn’t quite as well prepared. Okay, Chris Hemsworth as Jed Eckert is sufficiently studly and has star quality. Josh Peck is Matty, Jed’s selfish, obnoxious twit of a younger brother and the quarterback of the high school football team. Initially, I wanted to smack him around and steal his lunch money. Later, his act wore so thin that actually had me rooting for the Koreans.
Which didn’t last long since Will Yun Lee, as Col. Cho, has little to do except look inscrutably mean. Lee is as wooden as the stock of an old Winchester, but he does get to flash a neat little Makarov PM. The gun showed more personality.
So what’s in it for us? Of course there are guns. Lots of guns. Some of which don’t really exist. There are certainly AKs galore, including 47s, 74s, AKMs and AKMS’s. Most of them have one or more unusual features, such as odd muzzle devices, stocks or furniture, that don’t belong on the models shown. This didn’t bother me in the least. Whether a shooter is from Arkansas or Pyongyang, modifying firearms is half the fun of owning them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that “Kim” actually means “Bubba” in Korean.
I said lots of guns and I meant it. Tec-9s? We got ‘em. Mac-10s? Yeah, them too. Phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range? Hey, just what you see, pal. Oh, there’s the obligatory “hot chicks rocking their RPGs” scene, which is a plus in any action movie. Hell, a scene like that would have made Brokeback Mountain almost watchable. There’s also plenty of handguns a-blazing. There’s a scoped Remington 700 too, because, well, there’s always a scoped Remmy somewhere. It’s America, ain’t it?
The best of all the guns – best by far — was an M134 Minigun mounted on the roof of an absolutely cherry Mustang. I guess paying for all that gas isn’t much of a problem during an armed invasion. I’m thinking that the Minigun is an aftermarket part that Ford should adopt as its own. Give the people 5.8 liters of supercharged V8 power and six smoking barrels, and Ford can count on so much business they could pay back all the bailout money for the whole auto industry, with enough left over to bail out the US Treasury. Just don’t tell Hyundai, ‘cause they’ll do it first.
Model: Red Dawn
Length: 114 minutes
Finish: Not soon enough
Price: About $30 with popcorn and a soda
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Style * * *
The battle scenes look slick, the actors not so much. Loved the Nork unis, though. Gilbert & Sullivan would approve.
Reliability * * *
Hews fairly closely to the original, except there’s a new location, a new enemy, Spokane has a mealy-mouthed black mayor instead of that the mealy-mouthed white mayor in the original and the guns are cooler. Other than those things, you know the plot better than the writers and the lines better than the actors.
OVERALL RATING * * 1/2
Long on action – but not long enough – short on plot or logic. It’s a time waster.