First, thanks to everyone for the very kind anniversary wishes. WO'C is blessed by some of the smartest, funniest readers around, and whenever I muse on the high caliber of people who choose to waste their time here, I swell with pride. Usually Charlie Pride -- which I'm told is nothing to be alarmed about, although I should probably make that appointment with the urologist first thing on Tuesday -- but in honor of the 4th I've decided to swell with Pilgrim's Pride.
And to commemorate this most patriotic of holidays (and the forthcoming remake of that most patriotic of motion pictures), we thought we'd offer an encore presentation of our Red Dawn review from Better Living Through Bad Movies.
Red Dawn (1984)
Directed by John Milius
Written by John Milius (the semen stains on the screenplay conﬁrm this) and Kevin Reynolds. Story by Kevin Reynolds
The story of Red Dawn is familiar to anyone who had a C. Thomas Howell-induced wet dream during the mid 1980’s: Russians and Cubans invade the United States after the Soviet Union suffers its “worst wheat harvest in 55 years,” which somehow allows them to conquer the world. I found this perplexing but inspiring, since I was recently ﬁned for putting a Rubbermaid storage tub on my balcony. Taking a leaf from the Commie playbook, I poured a bottle of Round-Up into the planter in the courtyard and killed the hydrangeas, which should permit me to conquer the Condo Board and rule the Homeowners Association with an iron hand.
Anyway, this lurid peek into John Milius’ porn collection clocks in at a surprisingly epic 1 hour and 54 minutes, which admittedly sounds long until you actually watch it, at which point you’ll swear that sometime prior to the closing credits the Sun collapsed into a neutron star and humanity evolved into a species of pure energy.
Our ﬁlm opens in South Park, Colorado. It’s a typical all-American commuity, except they apparently don’t have cable TV, which means that 1) nobody has been able to switch on CNN and see that the Red Army has invaded America, and 2) they won’t be able to enjoy this movie when it eventually enters heavy rotation on HBO with Ice Castles and The Beastmaster.
Patrick Swayze drops his brother Charlie Sheen and Some Other Guy off at South Park High, whose football team is named…the Wolverines. (Pay attention! Later in the movie this seemingly trivial detail will become an extremely important source of irritation.) It ﬁnally dawns on the oblivious townsfolk that something is amiss when Soviet spetsnaz troops parachute onto the campus and blow up the cafeteria. (Apparently their battle plan read: 1) Secure major access roads. 2) Detain local authorities. 3) Destroy all stockpiles of Sloppy Joes and Sporks.)
In the midst of the invasion, Patrick roars back into the parking lot to pick up Charlie and Some Other Guy. Bullets and rocket propelled grenades are ﬂying around the school, teachers are being cut down by machineguns, busses are exploding and burning, but none of the kids seems all that upset, since this basically gives them the equivalent of a Snow Day.
Cut to: a bumpersticker that reads, You’ll Get My Gun When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands. Pan down to the vehicle’s owner, who is lying dead in the street with a gun in his cold hand. A kindly Russian soldier pauses to make the corpse’s dream come true.
Patrick collects a motley assortment of future direct-to-video stars and drives them to a service station/armory run by C. Thomas Howell’s dad. Suddenly, there’s an explosion in a distant vacant lot, and Patrick realizes the special effects crew is closing in on them. Under Dad’s expert guidance, they quickly gather up survival gear (soup, toilet paper, a football) and weapons (.38 revolvers, Red Ryder BB guns, Jarts) and pile into Patrick’s pickup.
They get about ten feet before the truck breaks down. The only way to ﬁx it? Urinate into the radiator. (Although the truck bed is overloaded with supplies, no one thought to bring a bottle of water. They do have several crates of New Coke, however). It should also be noted that co-scenarist Kevin Reynolds again celebrated the salutary effects of man piss ten years later in Waterworld, where the Kevin Costner character is introduced gulping down his own pee like a Jello shot. Anyway, having voided their bladders for the cause of freedom, the daring neo-Minute Men of Red Dawn resume their panicky ﬂight.
Meanwhile back in South Park, the Soviet day players are conquering the hell out of the town. Suddenly, through the billowing fog of war strides Cuban revolutionary Ron O’Neil as Commandante Super Fly! A breathless subordinate tells the Commandante that U.S. Army tanks are approaching the town!
Super Fly doesn't care -- main battle tanks are easy. What really worries him are the local Tea Party patriots who might just decide to open a can of Second Amendment whoop-ass; for the Commandante knows that these doughy, middle aged men have honed their predatory instincts through many a half-drunken Saturday afternoon spent ﬁring randomly into clumps of sagebrush in an effort to wing a pen-raised quail. The Commandante orders a couple of loitering soldiers to go stop the Third Armored Division, while he routs the real enemy by sorting through paperwork at the sporting goods store.
How did it come to this? U.S. soil, invaded and occupied by the Red Army and the Buena Vista Social Club! Well the movie was made in 1984, which means the invasion took place during the end of Ronald Reagan’s ﬁrst term of ofﬁce, a time when the President was admittedly having trouble focusing on details. (He later delivered a stirring mea culpa: “A few months ago I told the American people I did not let Russians and Cubans invade the United States. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Good enough for me, Dutch!
Still, you have to wonder why we didn’t annihilate the invading Soviet forces with any of those tens of thousands of thermonuclear weapons on our ICBMs, B-1 bombers, and submarines. Well, the answer to that is two little words: Good sportsmanship. Or we were so busy watching The Fall Guy and Finder of Lost Loves that we didn't notice we'd been invaded until the Russians were waiting for their luggage at the Denver Airport.
Meanwhile, the Band of Brothers and Other Guys have reached the mounains, and are camping beside their piss-powered 4x4. Severak of our sniveling heroes suggest that the only rational course is surrender, but Patrick Swayze is visibly a’swell with the spirit of patriotic deﬁance, and will brook no whisper of capitulation. He delivers a spine-tingling oration that puts Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech to shame, with lines like “Here, haul ass, take your shit!” and “This is your chance—git walkin’!” Patrick and Charlie Sheen spontaneously hug. Patrick shakes hands with Richard Beymer from West Side Story, then they all snuggle in close as Patrick explains that he and Charlie have been coming up here to Brokeback Mountain for a lot of years, and they can hunt and ﬁsh and avoid the invading Soviets and their increasingly suspicious wives for a long time.
It’s now October. Patrick, Charlie, and C. Thomas are all heavily accessorized with pine boughs and ferns (apparently they took time out from the insurrection to appear in the second season of Project Runway). The camouflage suggests that these nascent guerrillas will use their command of wood lore to approach their enemies unseen, or else we caught them in the middle of some cosplay fantasy in which Treebeard gets it on with that talking apple orchard from The Wizard of Oz.
C. Thomas shoots a stag, and Patrick and Charlie haze C. by making him drink its blood. “You gotta do it,” Patrick says, handing him a cup full of steaming gore. C. gazes queasily into his beverage as Charlie solemnly nods and murmurs, “Then you’ll be a real hunter.” Well, then you’ll be an easily browbeaten moron with a mouthful of bloodborne ruminant parasites, but let’s not quibble.
C. obligingly chugs it down and then grins at them through his blood mustache, and they all exchange manly, plasma-soaked handshakes. Charlie leans in close and conﬁdes to C., “My dad said, once you do that, there’s gonna be somehing different about you.” Yeah. It’s called Lyme disease. Enjoy.
As the group opens its last can of Campbell’s Chunky Smoked Chicken with Roasted Corn Chowder, they ﬁgure, hey, it’s been a month; they really ought to head to town and ﬁnd out what happened with their families and that whole invasion thing.
As they approach South Park, Patrick, Charlie and Other Guy are shocked to see that people are strolling around freely, the streets are safe and quiet, the stores are open, and unlike, say, Baghdad in 2003, the town apparently has running water and more than 3 hours of electricity a day. So the main thing I learned from Red Dawn is that George W. Bush should have subcontracted the invasion of Iraq to the Russians.
Our heroes learn that the Soviets have rounded up local men in violation of the Geneva Convention, and thrown them into a makeshift camp where they rot away without due process. Fortunately the prison is at the drive-in, so the boys can visit their impounded families and still catch that double feature of Blame It on Rio and Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment.
But when they approach the camp under cover of darkness, the boys are aghast at the conditions. Prisoners are beaten mercilessly during interrogations and kept outdoors in a chain link enclosure like animals. A voice drones constantly over the loudspeaker, “America is a whorehouse,” while soul-crushing propaganda images ﬂash on the screen, interrupted occasionally by that “Let’s All Go to the Snack Bar” commercial.
Patrick and Charlie ﬁnd their father, Harry Dean Stanton, who observes that his sons are alive and rather smugly says, “See? I was tough on you—did things that made you hate me at times.” But apparently his unique brand of discipline—the verbal abuse, the ﬂoggings with extension cords, the forced chugging of doe blood—it built character. So I guess the joke’s on them.
Dad sternly orders Patrick and Charlie to never to cry again for the rest of their lives, before he’s dragged away, shrieking, “Avenge me! AVENGE ME!” The boys turn and saunter off, their body language seeming to say, “Yeah. Sure. We’ll get right on that, Pop.”
After the motivational death of their dad, Patrick, Charlie and C. head on over to Old Man Exposition’s farm, where they learn that South Park is "O.T.," or "Occupied Territory," while the far side of Brokeback Mountain is “F.A.” or...something. "Fat Albert"?
Old Man Exposition tries to cheer up C. by revealing that the Russians shot his Dad on account of all the guns and Fresca they took from his gas station. C. tries to feign a convincing breakdown by screaming into his hands, but it doesn’t really work, so he turns to the farmer’s wife and buries his face in her wizened décolletage (which is as close as we ever get to sex in this movie).
As a consolation prize, Old Man Exposition gives the boys his granddaughters (Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey) as a free gift. He also gives them horses; Jennifer gets her own stallion, but Lea has to ride behind C., and she mounts up with a look that seems to say, “As soon as they yell ‘cut!’ I’m calling my agent and accepting that Howard the Duck offer!”
Our heroes ﬁnally start the revolution by murdering three Russian tourists who were in the midst of comically mistranslating a Forestry Service dedication plaque). But they do a crappy job of it, and only succeed in maiming the unarmed men. However, Patrick corners one of the helpless victims, and summoning the courage of his frontier forefathers and the 46th Vice President, shoots him in the face. (And then presumably drinks his blood. Rules are rules.)
Jennifer and Lea also prove their mettle by catching up to another seriously injured man as he crawls on his hands and knees, and shooting him in the back with a submachinegun. Apparently, this baptism of ﬁre turns them into radical lesbian feminists, because later they angrily refuse Charlie Sheen’s suggestion that they do the dishes. Charlie can’t understand their righteous indignation, but for the sake of their survival as an effective ﬁghting unit, he grudgingly tries to make peace by offering to pay them for sex.
The Russians line up two dozen townspeople in front of a firing squad, either in reprisal for the Wolverines' attack, or because they're singing a rendition of “America the Beautiful” that’s really off-key and grating. (Here’s a tip for future victims of Russo-Cuban atrocities: When you get to the “above the fruited plain” part, never go up an octave on “fruited” if you just don’t have the range for it.) Commandante Super Fly hastily orders the civilians gunned down before they get a chance to belt out that stupid “O beautiful for Pilgrim feet” line.
Charlie observes the massacre while dressed like a sheave (with the coming of fall, our heroes have naturally switched from ferns to wheat and wild grasses to preserve that Fashion Forward look). When he later returns to Brokeback and reports the mass murder, he breaks down and weeps bitterly until Patrick grabs him and screams, “Don’t cry! Don’t you ever cry again as long as you live! Don’t do it!” He tells Charlie, who just saw their father murdered, to let his grief “turn into something else.” Perhaps a butterﬂy, or a Pop-Tart—he doesn’t specify.
Back to the uprising. Jennifer Grey destroys a Soviet tank by giving the crew a booby-trapped picnic basket (as seen in Yogi Bear: The Final Conﬂict). Then, “the greatest pro-gun movie ever” proves that your deer riﬂe really ain’t gonna cut it come the Conquering Commie Horde, because suddenly our heroes have rockets and grenade launchers, Kalashnikovs and .50 machine guns. They proceed to
slaughter the highly trained Soviet paratroopers, pausing only occasionally to below, “Wolverines!” (Originally the insurgents called themselves “The Magilla Guerrillas,” but the brand performed poorly in focus-testing.)
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more tedious, the Russkies shoot down Top Gun Colonel Powers Boothe (callsign “Backstory”), who tells the kids that America was conquered by illegal aliens. Apparently, itinerant farm workers opened the door and “the whole Cuban and Nicaraguan armies just waltzed right in” and took over the whole country. I don’t know about you,
but my support for that UFW grape boycott is over!
The seasons pass. In real time. The snows come, and Patrick takes to wearing a white burnoose like Lawrence of Arabia. Some tanks suddenly appear and things get confusing: Ralph Macchio dies, and he wasn’t even in this movie.
Richard Beymer goes to town, and in an astonishing twist, he’s betrayed by his own father, captured by the Russians and tortured until he swallows a tracking device that will lead the invaders right to the Wolverines! Finally! Something exciting happens—too bad it all happens off screen and we just get to hear about it later. Oh well.
Patrick decides to shoot Richard in the face, because frankly, he does one thing, and he does it well. Later, he sits alone and sobs, the little hypocrite, while mooning over a picture of two 8-year old boys in Little League uniforms. This is never explained, which I think is all for the best.
The Russians decide to insult the Wolverines' intelligence by pushing crates of food off moving trucks to lure them into a trap, and they decide to fall for it. Our heroes collect and devour the provisions—providing further proof, as if any were needed, that there is nothing more exciting in an action ﬁlm than the sight of people eating cornﬂakes--while the director seizes this belated opportunity to give his characters a shred of personality by having Jennifer Grey squeeze orange juice onto Patrick’s head.
Suddenly, a Soviet attack helicopter appears and shoots Jennifer in the gut, which is tragic, because only moments ago she was so alive, dribbling citrus juice on a mediocre actor’s do-rag. Patrick shouts, “Nobody shoots Baby in the gut!” and throws her onto his horse and rides away, but accidentally drops her.
C. thrusts his riﬂe in the air and bellows, “Wolverines!” which the Russians take as a request to shoot him with a variety of projectiles until he is primarily a stain. Meanwhile Jennifer, despite taking a small rocket through the sternum and falling off a galloping horse is still alive, which seems kind of cruel (what the hell do you have to do to get out of this movie?) and she quite reasonably asks Patrick
to shoot her in the face. But suddenly he’s too much of a whimpering little pussy to pull the trigger.
“Give me a grenade,” she whispers. “I don’t want to be too cold.” Yeah. That’ll warm you right up. She explodes, taking one of the Russkies with her. Unfortunately, when it comes time to put her together again after the stunt, they can't find her original nose and she has to go with a loaner.
Back at Red Army HQ, tender, haunting music plays while Commandante Super Fly writes a voice over to his wife, complaining about the weather. It's a beautiful and moving scene, surprisingly evocative of Ken Burns' The Civil War. ("My Dearest Consuela...Snow blankets this place in the chill mantle of death. My heart is heavy for want of you, and my soul is sick with the desolation of war. So many of my comrades lie dead or wounded, the people stare at us with the dull, sullen gaze of caged beasts, and all of our radiators smell like piss.")
Patrick and a Russian Colonel face off in a Wild West style shootout. “You lose,” Patrick sneers, just before the Colonel shoots him to excess.
Although Patrick's lungs now contain a lavish assortment of bullets, he still manages to lift the wounded Charlie -- who's losing a lot of tiger blood -- and carry him to a playground, while Commandante Super Fly watches and whispers, “Vaya con Dios.” They die together, embracing by a swingset.
Meanwhile, Lea and Some Other Guy re-enact the end of The Sound of Music and walk over the mountains to F.A. (turns out it stood for "Free America"). Then she turns into John-Boy Walton and sums up the Third World War with a pithy and listless voice over: Even though everybody’s dead, we won.