“Red Dawn” is an 80s movie with a strong cult following that, on its surface, has everything it takes to be a perfect man movie.
It stars notable tough guys like Patrick Swayze, Powers Boothe, and an 18 year old and nearly unrecognizable Charlie Sheen. It has guns, blood, and violence galore. But a combination of awful acting and writing, and writer/director John Milius’ indecision as to the direction of the story leaves it barely watchable.
“Red Dawn” opens depicting the tribulations of the era with fictitious global unrest and mounting tensions mixing with the cold war. In the quaint small town of Calumet, Colorado, high school student Matt Eckert (Sheen) is in class when interrupted by the site of military paratroopers landing outside and opening fire.
Matt’s older brother Jed (Swayze) grabs his sibling and a handful of other students and heads for the nearby mountains, armed with rifles from a local hunting store.
Through the next arduously slow and somewhat confusing scenes, we learn that World War III has broken out – with Russia and Cuba joining forces to attack (we’ll cover the silliness of that in itself later) and have taken control of the town.
Jed teaches the students how to grow up and be men, the old fashioned way (there’s no participation ribbons or effort trophies with this guy) teaching them to shoot and hunt for food, and at one point standing by as a student drinks the blood of a deer they’ve killed. Jed oversees the boys as they prepare to fight back guerrilla style and liberate their homes.
Where “Red Dawn” bombs is John Milius’ inability to determine if the movie is a comedy of a dour war story. One scene we see the invading forces posing for pictures by a monument and it makes you chuckle. The next scene shows the enemy leader Colonel Bella (Ron O’Neal) ordering the execution of dozens of prisoners via firing squad.
The plot is so absurd one may entertain the notion that its more of a lighthearted type story in the mold of “Die Hard” or “Predator” – Swayze and company mounting an insurgence to defeat a heavily advantaged group of bad guys. But this never happens.
And Russia and Cuba joining forces? Why not just Russia. And why would an invading army land in Colorado? Shouldn’t you start in a coastal location?
Swayze and Sheen would vault to the forefront of man movies with roles in blockbusters like “Road House” and “Platoon” respectively. In “Red Dawn” neither offers a performance that’s worthy of note. One particularly horrible scene shows them speaking to their father, who has been taken prisoner, for the last time. Its so uncomfortable and poorly acted by all parties I was actually embarrassed from the comfort of my couch, 33 years later.
Other 80s megastars appear in the forms of the women involved; sisters that join the resistance played by Lea Thompson of “Back to the Future” fame and Jennifer Grey – who would ironically star alongside Swayze a few years later in “Dirty Dancing.”
If you’re someone who is so obsessed with the military it borders on stalking, you could be in for a treat. “Red Dawn” offers the viewer a typical taste of overly Americana, with its sanctimonious back story and 2nd Amendment foolishness.
As for everyone else, its boring and completely unenjoyable.
by – Matt Christopher