This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Regional Editor for RiverTown Multimedia, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Red Dawn.”
The Movie: “Red Dawn” (1984)
Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Leah Thompson
Director: John Milius
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) It is the dawn of World War III. In mid-western America, a group of teenagers band together to defend their town, and their country, from invading Soviet forces.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50 percent
Brown: For two weeks, the JOE-DOWN has had an age crisis.
First, last week’s choice of “Wild Hogs” had a bunch of middle-aged men trying to be hard-ass bikers. Spoiler alert if you didn’t read: They were wimps. Insufferable wimps.
And now, we rewind to some good ol’ fashioned ‘80s Russia paranoia (not to be confused with 2017-18 Russia paranoia) as a bunch of gawky teenagers become John Rambo with “Red Dawn.”
The original, not the remake. Because we love the ‘80s here at the JOE-DOWN. Plus, this is movie number two in the Patrick Swayze three-pack of movies we purchased for $5 back in July for “Youngblood.” In due time, we’ll get to “Roadhouse.”
Now, I knew things about this movie (like how it was the first PG-13 movie) but I had never seen it. And now, I want to commit my time to finding out how many militias formed around America because of this
right-wing propaganda film.
Froemming, as a more pronounced child of the ‘80s, what were your initial thoughts?
Froemming: Like you, I hadn’t seen this film before (or if I did, I was very young and don’t remember). And it is refreshing to go back to a time when the idea of Russia invading our country seemed like a Hollywood fantasy. A very paranoid fantasy that people took seriously at the time, but still.
Now I know this film is right-wing propaganda. But I love this (REDACTED) movie. If Paul Ryan can enjoy Rage Against The Machine, I can enjoy “Red Dawn.” I don’t care what anybody thinks, this movie is ridiculously fun.
Now as I get ready to mock the nerdy student body president for being weak, why don’t you kick this off.
Brown: It’s an alternate universe 1980s. The United States is isolated from the rest of the world as NATO dissolves. Mexico falls under revolution, and several communist countries band together with the Soviets to add to their strength.
All the while, a group of kids in Calumet, Colorado get ready for a typical day of school where their teacher will teach them war strategy? I don’t ever remember that being part of the Fridley High School curriculum but I started going to school after the fall of the Berlin Wall, so what do I know?
As the teacher lectures a bored class, we all of a sudden see a bunch of men with parachutes dropping down by the school
The teacher goes outside and gets gunned down. And it bummed me out because it took this movie five minutes to gun down the only black character in it.
But there’s no time to reflect on how not woke this movie is, because Communism has landed in America!
Froemming: Look, if the Commies plan to take over America was by invading a small farm town like Worthington, Minn., then they deserved the loss of the Cold War.
So the invaders are shooting up the school and the town, and my first question was this: This is America, small town America, this whole town has got to be armed to the teeth, right? There would have been a bloody street war here, not Americans shrugging their shoulders and going into Re-Education Camps.
Brown: There’s a difference between being armed and actually having to kill a person… you know what? No. I’m not having the gun debate on the JOE-DOWN.
Here’s my problem with this entire premise: What possible strategic advantage could taking over the midwest offer? If you’re looking to invade, you don’t land in the middle and work your way out. I know they mention at one point that there are multiple war zones, but that’s… that’s just poor strategic planning.
Hell, you’re Russia. You’re famous for winning wars because invaders match into your country and realize “Oh (REDACTED), winter sucks.” You landed in COLORADO.
Froemming: The premise really only worked to rile up Midwest movie goers. You know, to make us feel important enough to think any foreign enemy would give a (REDACTED) about the land of corn.
Brown: Amidst the chaos, we have several kids from the school hop into a pickup truck of Jed (Swayze), who decides to grab some gear and book it to the mountains and reevaluate their options once they’re safe.
One of my favorite things when they go to a shop to take supplies is one of the characters demanding they grab toilet paper because he’s not going to wipe his ass with leaves. I’m a firm believer that you never buy TP on the cheap, so good on you, kid.
And we find out that the Communist who started the initial invasion were from Cuba, led by Colonel Bella. He’s evil because he has a mustache and a beret.
Froemming: He is also the drug dealer in “Super Fly,” so kids this is what cocaine makes you: Communist leader.
So the teens make their way up into the mountains and this is when I realized this is would never get bloodlust for killing dirty Communists.
And we get our first confrontation on the mountain. Jed wants everyone to stay put and they will hunt and live off the land, because Jed and Matt (Charlie Sheen) grew up with a paranoid survivalist father (played by the always amazing Harry Dean Stanton).
The student body president, Daryl I think it was, says he wants to vote on whether to surrender or not. So of course Swayze goes “Roadhouse” on his spineless butt and knocks some sense into him.
Have we mentioned this is right-wing propaganda yet?
Brown: Well, Jed is named after a soldier, so of course he’s going to be our hard-ass leader. These soft kids with their letter jackets and school-provided lunches don’t know what it’s like to clean guns or sharpen arrow tips
Seriously, if Jed and Matty’s dad lived today, he’d be reading a lot of InfoWars and ranting to anyone that would listen about the Deep State.
After a few weeks in the mountains (where no one grows facial hair for some reason. Seriously, I know they’re teens, but some whiskers, perhaps?) the boys need to know what’s happening so they sneak back into Calumet. It’s here where we find out that many adults are in a re-education camp if they were found to own guns.
And it’s here where we get possibly the greatest melodramatic line read of any JOE-DOWN movie since Tommy Wiseau’s “YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!”
Froemming, I’ll let you take it here.
Froemming: Jed and Matty find their father at one of those camps (seriously, everyone is paranoid and on lock-down in the town, but these teens are free to wander anywhere? No wonder Communism failed).
And at the camp, after being told not to cry because crying is for cowards, liberals and welfare moochers, their father wants his children to….
What does this mean? Why, it means WAR for our young heroes. Time for this scrappy band of teens to take on the Evil Empire! Hell, if John Rambo could win Vietnam on his own, Charlie Sheen and his Tiger Blood can take out the Soviets, right?
Brown: Question: who did the “Avenge me” line better? Harry Dean Stanton in “Red Dawn” or Willem Dafoe in “Spider-Man 2?”
Froemming: I really dislike Spider-Man, so Harry Dean Stanton wins by default (“Spider-Man 2” is a good movie, it is just the character I’ve never really liked).
Brown: Spider-Man is my jam. So now I’m upset.
Now, I should mention at this point that we haven’t really seen this group of teens get into any altercations with the Communists. After the visit with dad, the boys visit Mr. Mason, who gives us a big exposition dump. They are behind enemy lines in “Occupied America.” I’m going to yell into the void again, but how do the Commies even reach midwest America? I know there’s some mention of illegals coming up from Mexico, which explains both the Cubans in this movie and Trump’s insistence on the wall. But in the midst of the Cold War, American military intelligence is so weak it can’t tell when Russians cross the Bering Strait in Alaska or any other military coup from the west coast?
I think I wrote this argument three times in my notes for a movie that doesn’t even hit two hours.
After dumping backstory on the boys, Mr. Mason dumps two more things on our group of hideaways: his two granddaughters, Toni (Jennifer Grey) and Erica (Thompson). They were hiding in the floor like they were escaping the Jew Hunter in “Inglourious Basterds.”
Froemming: Well, we can say for certain that Toni and Jed are certainly not having the time of their lives here.
Froemming: You were thinking it. Don’t act all like you’re above bad movie jokes.
Now, something terrible has happened to these girls (it is alluded to rape by the Commies) and they join the cast of every ‘80s movie up in the mountains to survive.
Now as they are out and about in the mountains, they spot a vehicle with three Commies taking in nature and mocking Teddy Roosevelt. And after being spotted, these plucky teens do what anyone would do in such a situation: Kill the bastards in cold blood. The experience seems to change them into mindless killing machines for the rest of the film.
Brown: Well, there is a stupid part earlier in the movie where C. Thomas Howell’s character kills a deer and Jed and Matty make him drink the blood, talking about how he’ll never be the same after it. This was your metaphorical taste for blood instead of obvious.
Look, this movie isn’t subtle.
So now, instead of being scared kids in the woods, they form a guerrilla fighter group that looks to get the Commies out of their hometown. Commies are gunning down people as an eye-for-an-eye-type thing, only for the Wolverines (the nickname they adopt from the high school mascot) to start killing them in retribution.
Now, how the hell do the Wolverines get so proficient in war tactics? They do some advanced stuff. My thought: That teacher in the beginning is the unsung hero of this movie. I imagine he made his students read “The Art of War.”
Also, second best line in this movie:
Froemming: The tactics they use (bombs and the art of surprise and fear) are a lot like what happens in the film “The Battle of Algiers,” which I saw in a political science class in college when I was a snowflake. These tactics create chaos and uncertainty among the soldiers and townsfolk.
So the Commies do what any military leader would probably advise not to do: Kill these kids’ family members as retaliation. Because making your enemy even more angry and now with nothing to lose makes them more dangerous, not less.
Brown: Ambushes and whatnot, I get that. Anyone can do that in theory. But hell, Toni twice takes part in elaborate ruses to bomb a tank and a building. That is some advanced (REDACTED). Like, if these kids were born a decade earlier than they were, Vietnam would have been a lot different.
And something that bugged me in this movie: The Wolverines are gaining notoriety. People in town see the spray painted tanks and jeeps they have disabled. Apparently people on the coasts have heard of them. So… how come it’s the same kids doing this? How has this not caused a groundswell in recruits or support? I’d think after saving a bunch of adults from being executed they could have had a few adults sympathetic to the cause. Something!
Froemming: We learn about their notoriety when they stumble upon an soldier minding his own business sleeping in the sun. And it took me way too much time to realize Lt. Col. Andrew “Andy” Tanner was a young Powers Boothe. He informs the kids of what’s been going on with an exposition dump and trains these kids further into the Art of War.
Brown: DC was destroyed by nukes, air command was shut down by the Cubans and paratroopers were dropped from commercial planes. I still feel this would have been stopped in 1980s Reagan America, but whatever. And save for DC, no nukes are being used by either side.
Now, for the weirdest thing in this movie: This unexplained love (??) dynamic between Andy and Erica.
The (REDACTED) was that, Froemming?
Froemming: I did some digging and found out they cut a sex scene between these two characters, so we instead get a very off-putting romance that comes out of nowhere. Thanks a lot, Obama.
Brown: Yeah, I know that world is in flux with a Communist takeover and all. But pretty sure that scene wouldn’t have been cool. So I’ll take some awkwardness over that sex scene. This movie has enough coming-of-age moments born out of necessity. That would be more of what we already get enough of.
Froemming: My understanding was in was not explicit or anything, and the dialog before hand made the story make more sense. I don’t buy that because not much in this movie makes any sense.
Andy assists the Wolverines on some raids, and is gunned down during one as he is trying to toss a grenade into a tank, which is a pretty badass way to go out. Aardvark (Wikipedia says that is his name, I referred to him in my notes as “Guy #2”) is also taken out and we find out that dirty scumbag Daryl is taken in by the enemy and becomes a mole to find the Wolverines.
Brown: Well, Daryl’s dad, the mayor of the town, rats him out as one of the Wolverines and they make him swallow a tracker while in a torture session.
After surviving an ambush from Spetsnaz, Daryl is confronted before being eventually executed by Robert (Howell) along with a POW they took from the Soviet Special Forces.
They… just killed one of their friends for being a mole. Welcome to war, kids. Sucks, doesn’t it.
Even Jed is shaken by this. This was a guy who was explicitly told by his dad to never cry from now on. And Jed said after their first kill that no one could ever go home after this. And while Swayze is an ugly crier, I did like this scene. Yeah, circumstances have turned the Wolverines into this rag-tag army group. But they’re still kids who didn’t sign up for this.
After an hour-plus of gun and army porn, it was refreshing to see some of that hardened exterior crack for the Wolverines.
Froemming: I thought the same. Robert cries when he finds out about his family earlier, and the brothers crying really made these characters more rounded out.
But we have no time for tears now, because while in the desert (I thought it was winter, but maybe it is spring now. Even with telling me the months I sometimes lost track of time) and they see a truck spill some groceries. And like me in my early 20s, they run to grab the newly-found free food. This, it turns out….
Brown: As first, I was confused as to why they were scarfing up that food. Like I get it, you’re hungry, but you live in the woods. Ration the food, guys.
But this moment of bliss is cut short thanks to what I originally thought was AirWolf.
Instead, three Russian gunships. Toni gets shot but doesn’t die for like another 10 minutes. Dude, Jennifer Grey got hit by bullets from a helicopter. She should be Swiss cheese. There wasn’t even blood after she got hit.
Froemming: That’s some morbid thinking…
Brown: I imagine the rounds that come out of a helicopter being as long as the base of my wrist to the end of my middle finger. And with that kind of power, you won’t get an open casket.
Plus, my sympathy for Toni went out the door when she tells Jed “I’m killed.” Your final words should utilize proper English.
The group scatters. Robert decides to go out like a (REDACTED) champ.
Froemming: Well, the Wolverines are down in numbers, but that doesn’t stop them from another attack on the town. They set off bombs again and in the process, both Jed and Matty get mortally wounded. And as much of a cheesy action flick this is, I felt invested in these two characters and knowing they are not going to face a happy ending we usually expect in such films was another reason why I love this movie. Hell, even Bella sees them walking toward the old playground to die and lets them go. It also goes into his weird subplot where Bella realizes he has become the enemy he always thought he was against.
Brown: Well, you even see Bella before this write a letter to a woman about how much he misses her. Your typical “War is Hell” letter. But yeah, the brothers dying together in the park was very touching.
Something I had a problem with is this could have been avoided, at least for Jed. After Matty gets shot while on a train, the gunman is searching for the brothers, only for Jed to sneak behind him.
Now, does he go in for the stealth kill? No. He stands eight feet away from the man with a submachine gun and has to give a one-liner before eating a bullet or two before finally killing the guy.
Look, Jed, I’m sure you had a death wish now that your brother is bleeding out, but a couple more steps and no one-liner and you could still fight another day.
I love action movies, but sometimes they are so (REDACTED) stupid.
Froemming: Maybe he was going to do a roundhouse kick on the guy, like in “Roadhouse,” but couldn’t get close enough? I dunno. All I know is the Eckert family line ended in that playground and Lea Thompson lived on to be Biff Tannen’s wife in the dark, rebuilt America Doc and Marty visit in “Back To The Future Part II.”
Let’s hop into our trucks and drive up to Mount Recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Oh for sure. I think the political message is definitely lost in this movie, but as a popcorn action flick, it’s really good. I’ve watched the “Avenge me” clip more times today than I’d like to admit.
Froemming: Yes. I love this movie way more than I probably should.