Written by / 5/17/2017 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , ,

AN INTREPID JOHN MILIUS DUTIFULLY DIRECTS RED DAWN

On an Optimistic Note, He was Failing History YEAR: 1984
Two toughest kids on the block... I guess, sooner or later, they're gonna fight.
There wasn't a more perfectly suited director for RED DAWN than John Milius, whose staunch, overboard bravado towards The Right most likely shocked The Left-leaning writers, directors, producers, actors, and even critics. But still referred to as a very good (if hit/miss) director, having done an eclectic reel from DILLINGER, THE WIND AND THE LION, BIG WEDNESDAY and garnering his first box office blast with CONAN THE BARBARIAN, he's mostly known as the great writer of APOCALYPSE NOW... So here's another War... The Next Step, the 1980's, and it takes Milius, with an original story/co-written by future FANDANGO (and WATERWORLD) director Kevin Reynolds, to not only make the Russians the bad guys but to kick the Cold War in the pants by moving Soviet and Cuban ground-troops up from Mexico, and taking over half of America...

Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen
It's the crest of the Occupied Territory America we center on... a patriotic, Teddy Roosevelt-loving, rural small town... and things don't get much better than the first ten minutes: A history teacher, played by Milius regular Frank McCrea, giving a lecture seeming lifted from one of the director's own screenplays (had he tackled the subject of Genghis Khan): Centering on this one class, we witness a shrouded-nightmare image that starts out benign, confusing, and even kinda cool for some students: A group of paratroopers land on a large field outside the school, and when our trusted, tall and strong teacher strolls out for some answers... in a chilling moment feeling more Horror than War... he becomes the first victim of John Milius's Non-Nuclear take on World War III.

Stay Red, White, and Blue, Pony Boy
There's a handful of young actors including two from Milius's former partner, Francis Ford Coppola's THE OUTSIDERS: Patrick Swayze as the group leader and C. Thomas Howell as a docile kid who'd soon turn into the token gung-ho wildcard... There's Charlie Sheen, who, towards the end, after being lost in the mix throughout most of the picture, becomes a Moral Compass for Swayze (like Sean Penn was to Timothy Hutton in TAPS) as Swayze turns in a steady performance as the outdoorsy older brother, losing his humanity along the way. Going back to that rudimentary attack, once the group heads to the hills, the movie hits an awkward, sluggish wall  maybe on purpose since the kids hadn't acquired the momentum or skills to be an interesting group to base a war/action movie on. And having a deliberately sparse set-up before the initial siege, the characters are only developed after war begins. This makes each person count on their ability to survive, or their reluctance to partake. But there's not enough levity beyond the situation to ground things now and again. While being ultra-serious, it's a bit too claustrophobic: despite taking place in The Great Outdoors.

Two legends, in their own way, Boothe & Swayze
After a month has passed, in bright daylight three of the boys head into their now Soviet Occupied town with imagery straight out of Orwell: the usual propaganda posters and subliminal training films. It's much too soon that the same trio who, a short time earlier, were wanted guerrillas, would be able to seek the kind of expository-information the audience could have waited for...

Especially once Powers Boothe, playing an intentionally scene-stealing Air Force pilot, shows up, asleep near his crashed-jet, full of tired, world-weary experience, devil-may-care optimism and color commentary on the war's origin: the flip-side of what The Wolverines... the group's name named after their school mascot... have become as insurgents: making a mess of Ron O'Neal's Cuban/Soviet front...

RedScore: ***1/2
Providing some of the coolest moments straight out of a "Real War Flick" with RAMBO style action thrown in: like when the enemy chases the Second of Two Girls, Jennifer Grey, into the clearing as the group pops up from various holes dug into the earth, and start firing. Meanwhile, the lead ingenue, Lea Thompson, both narrates and provides a lid for Booth's pot but... like Quint in JAWS, the most rugged and wordy heroes rarely survive... And wait till the end for a menace more powerful and intimidating than anyone or anything: William Smith as a teeth-clenching Russian brought in to finally clean the slate of these feisty little rebels (all the while making Ron O'Neal's character more sympathetic and human).

William Smith as the 11th hour Antagonist
RED DAWN is a roller coaster ride not without clunky jolts of melodramatic scenes that last too long in some places while certain characters... like Grandpa holed up much-too-safely in the foothills... are too good to be true. And yet, by the end, there's a feeling of not only witnessing but becoming part of a real war, spread upon the canvas of a filmmaker brave enough to turn the Soviet Threat into a ground assault verb: especially during the 1980's when any movies involving Russia would have America equally (if not more) to blame (in those cases, the war would last twenty seconds). And in closing, the critics who deem this a "Right Wing" film, both then and now, have insulted everyone else who can and will enjoy a bombastic and fantastical, old fashion war flick, no matter how ludicrous the premise: All of us were children once, and most played with toy soldiers. 
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