I'll admit, I didn't closely follow the recent U.S./North Korean summit (although it lasted only a few hours, so I'm not sure they actually reached the "summit"; it seems more like they got to the mountain, looked up at the cloud-wreathed peak, and Trump said "screw it" and just bought one of those "I Went to the Summit and All I Got Was This Lousy Denuclearization Agreement" T-shirts from the gift shop). I did see where the President[sic] unilaterally surrendered our right to conduct military exercises with South Korea, which seems like a stupid and dangerous concession to make, until you read the fine print and realize that in exchange he got in on the ground floor of the Pyongyang Secrets®, The People's Most Patriot All-Inclusive, Adults Only, Clothing Optional Beach Resort.
Still, with force readiness degraded and our allies fuming, it seems like we're getting closer to the postbellum nightmare of 2012's Red Dawn
, which saw Chinese invaders morphing, Power Rangers
-style, into North Koreans, and then ruthlessly despoiling our supply of both domestic and imported hunks.
And since I'm stuck at the Portland, Oregon airport right now, it seems the perfect time to dip into the archives and exhume this old chestnut. Enjoy!
Our aim at World O' Crap has always been entertainment, not education, and yet -- as humanity seems to teeter on the edge of a precipice -- it is useful to recall that George Bernard Shaw believed great art not only could, but indeed must be didactic. Which brings me to Red Dawn. Not, not that one, the other one.
When Sheri and I wrote Better Living Through Bad Movies, we climaxed the whole thing with a chapter on Red Dawn, that 1984 paean to Reagan-era priapism, in which an armada of Russians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans subdue the United States. The vaunted U.S. military proves useless, undoubtedly due to budget cuts, leaving the task of repulsing the invaders to a rag-tag band of American teenagers. But even they are woefully ill-equipped, and for much of the movie can only respond to Russian artillery fire with nocturnal emissions.
When it came time to release the audiobook version, we added some bonus features, including a review of the 2012 remake of Red Dawn, because it operated from an even more ludicrous premise: that the United States gets bullied and geo-politically pants'd by North Korea.
I don't know, it seemed hilarious last year. But since satire has now become current events, we better prepare by taking this peek at Kim Jong-un's battle plan.
First, however, a bit of background:
In 2009 MGM remade Red Dawn, replacing Patrick Swayze with Chris Hemsworth, and the defunct Soviet Union with the People’s Republic of China. But the studio had financial problems, and then a change of heart about offending the world’s second largest market for movies, so the picture sat on the shelf for three years. Eventually they used dubbing and digital effects to change the villain, and now instead of China, the United States gets invaded and conquered by…North Korea. Which has an interesting effect on the narrative; I mean Red Dawn has always been a David and Goliath story, but in this version, we’re the guy who gets hit in the head with a rock.
Red Dawn (2012)
Director by Dan Bradley
Written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore, based on the 1984 screenplay by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds
Global tensions are high; the American military is deployed to hot spots all over the world, leaving the homeland undefended; and North Korean is threatening to destroy our entire country. Granted, that feels a bit like getting the hem of your Wranglers gnawed on by a teacup Chihuahua, but as various panicky cable news anchors remind us, North Korea's is the fourth largest army in the world, behind the Peoples Liberation Army of China, the U.S. Army, the KISS Army, and Armie Hammer.
We're watching a high school football game in Spokane, where Chris Hemsworth, a marine on leave from Iraq, has come to watch his brother, Josh Peck, lead the Wolverines to defeat. Later, Chris goes to a bar where he gets hit on by Adrianne Palicki (from – oddly enough – Friday Night Lights) whose idea of a saucy pick-up line is to remind Chris that he used to babysit her, and that he has a dead mom. And while we can’t see his crotch in this shot, Chris’s eyes tell us that with her clumsy attempt at flirtation, Adrianne has just committed an act of premeditated bonercide.
There's a blackout, and everybody goes home. The next day, Chris and Josh awaken to see the sky filled with computer generated North Koreans. They jump in their Dodge truck and run into a bunch of stuff, until they literally run into their Dad, who's a cop. He repeatedly orders them to "get to the cabin!", which I like to think is the movie's subtle way of telling us, "if you have to see a Chris Hemsworth film, why don't you go watch Cabin in the Woods instead?"
You know what? I think the movie’s right. What do you say we turn this crap off right now and head for Redbox. Who's with me?!
No one? Fine...
You know, sometimes I think you people want me to suffer.
Josh insists they pick up his hot blonde girlfriend, but when they get to her house they find the Korean invaders are rounding up all the cheerleaders. So they drive off in a screaming panic, in the process collecting a convoy of soon-to-be-recognizable actors (that other Josh from Hunger Games), already forgotten legacy-celebrities (Connor Cruise, adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman), a trigger-happy, argumentative dick named Pete who -- I'm calling it now -- will betray our heroes to the North Koreans before long; plus Adrianne, some male models for cannon fodder, and a pretty Latina named Julie, because even though it's wartime there are still labor laws, and somebody will eventually have to spell Adrianne on the vagina shift.
The next day, Chris and Josh go look at the town while their voices – dubbed in post production when the studio decided they couldn’t make the bad guys Chinese -- assure us the thought of North Korea conquering the west coast is crazy! But so crazy it just might work! Then they go back to the cabin and find that Pete has stolen all their breakfast cereal and betrayed them to the Koreans. Even worse, our designated villain, Captain Cho, has captured Connor Cruise's dad, the mayor, and Chris and Josh's dad, the cop. The mayor takes a bullhorn and tries to lure the boys out of the woods, but Cop Dad, who's playing the Harry Dean Stanton role, points at Cho and commands the boys to "go to war with this piece for shit!"
Cho looks at one of his soldiers with an expression that seems to say, "Did this bitch really just call me a piece of shit?" The soldier gives him a nod that says "you know it, girlfriend", and Cho pulls his pistol and recreates that famous photo of the Saigon police chief shooting a Vietcong in the head. So I guess it takes being invaded by North Koreans to make North Americans empathize with the North Vietnamese.
The next day, Chris's truck is bogged down in a creek bed. All the characters get out and push, but the wheels just spin uselessly in the mud, which is a pretty good visual metaphor for the plot. Since nobody's going anywhere they decide to kill time with an argument. Hunger Games wants to go home to his parents until Adrianne says, Oh. Hey. I forgot to tell you, they're dead. Chris gives a speech about how they're going to fight and become fleas; and while they may only be larvae now, if they work hard they will soon pupate and become parasites who will make the big dog that is North Korea feel itchy. Which is all well and good, but I kind of liked it in the first film when they cried "Wolverines!", and I'm not sure it'll have the same effect when they thrust their AR-15s skyward and shout "Fleas!"
Ready for a training montage? Wait, there's more: ready for the World's Dullest Training Montage? Okay then, let's join the Fleas as they take shorthand, learn to parallel park, and roll around in leaf mold. After thirty-four seconds of boot camp, they start ambushing Korean soldiers and stealing their lunch money. But Hunger Games pukes while corpse-robbing, so Chris and Josh make him shoot a deer and drink its blood, because when remaking even a stupid movie, filmmakers should try to honor its legacy and its fans by including the stupidest part. But they do update the moment for a modern audience, because this time the sacred act of communion between hunter and prey turns out to be a frat-style prank. I'm surprised they didn't hand him a Sharpie and make him draw a dick on the dead deer's forehead.
The Fleas go on the offensive, bombing the Koreans with explosive skateboards and commandeering sliced turkey from Subway. But Josh can't stop lurking around Cheerleader Concentration Camp to peep on his imprisoned girlfriend. Chris tells him he’s endangering the Fleas, but Josh has an idea for how to end the war, and it’s a plan that does the impossible: it’s vague and incredibly complicated at the same time.
But the Fleas seem to know what they're doing, and what they're doing is failing, because in the middle of it Josh spots his girlfriend and runs off to save her. The one Latino flea doesn’t get any lines but he does get killed, and Chris sustains a wound that requires him to take off his shirt and get stitched up without anesthetic, because he got his Patrick Swayze movies mixed up and thought he was in a remake of ROAD HOUSE.
Girlfriend tells them a Russian spetznaz unit has been brought in to handle the Fleas, because that's what happened in the first movie. Then a North Korean general arrives to shout at Captain Cho, but because the characters were originally Chinese and the dialogue has been dubbed into Korean, everyone is subtitled and still out of sync. It may be the best thing in the movie, and after the General storms out, Cho and his aide exchange fraught looks that seem to say, "Did you understand a word he just said?" "No, I don't even understand what I’m saying."
Three Marines show up, led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who's pulled the Power Boothe shift, and explains the plot: the North Koreans destroyed our electrical grid and communications with an EMP, which allowed them to conquer the entire West Coast, because our morale plummeted without access to Internet porn and Pokemon Go. But Captain Cho keeps a radio-telephone in a suitcase, and if the Fleas can steal it, they’ll win the war. Which seems stupid, but I assume everyone agreed to the rules before they started, so whatever.
They sneak into the Police Department, steal the radio, and Chris shoots Cho in the face. They go back to the hideout to celebrate, but the Koreans interrupt Miller Time by shooting Chris in the back. Seeing his brother's brains spattered all over the six pack changes Josh, and he immediately turns into the greatest guerrilla general since Ho Chi Minh. He leads the Fleas to safety in a Country Squire station wagon, then goes on a grand tour of occupied America, making speeches and recruiting Scabies, Crotch Crabs, Deer Ticks -- a whole army of patriotic parasites. The End.
So what is this version of Red Dawn trying to tell us? Well, we think it offers an important lesson about bullying. Suppose a classmate was intimidating your child on the playground. You could complain to the school, give your kid a few self-defense pointers, or do what we’d do and show them Red Dawn, which demonstrates that while anyone can be bullied, anyone can also be a bully.
Even America, the world’s richest nation, can be successfully beaten up by one of the world’s poorest. So the moral of the story is, if you see a poor person, punch them hard, then run away. And by teaching this lesson to children, it also teaches us, as adults, that it’s probably a good thing we don’t have children.
Additionally, Red Dawn illustrates the rule that casting a hunky but unknown Australian in your movie won’t help get it released; but if you let him ripen on the shelf for three years, he’ll turn into Thor. Or he’ll get black and squishy like an avocado, in which case you should just put your film in a Cuisinart and make guacamole (serves 6 to 8 persons, bores 10 to 12).
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Red Dawns is that the 1984 film was very concerned about guns, and the temperature of the hands that held them. But that’s a quaint artifact from a less heavily armed period in America’s history, when sweet old granny’s still kept cut-glass dishes full of ribbon candy on their coffee tables instead of bowls of bullets.
In the 2012 Red Dawn, guns are abundant, but patriots freak the hell out because the North Koreans turned off their wifi. And unlike Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, who spent much of their movie hijacking ammo and AK-47s and fighting a guerilla war against the Soviets, Chris and the Fleas lay down their lives to get the one working electronic device that will finally allow them to check in on Grindr.
This reflects an important change not only in social values, but military tactics, and if this trend continues, the next war will dispense with tanks, aircraft, and infantry, and be fought virtually, and by proxy. So start training up those Pokémon now.
For me, though, the main lesson we can take from the Red Dawn remake is that Yes, It Can Happen Here. If Kim Jong-un precedes his invasion by knocking out Twitter, Trump will be effectively muzzled, unable to communicate with his generals, or tweet excuses to his followers about how this whole invasion thing is the Democrats fault, and have you tried the chocolate cake?
So get used to being run by Poppin Fresh with a flattop, America.
(Sure, he may kill you, but if you press his belly, he giggles!)