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JOHN MILIUS DIRECTS 'RED DAWN' STARRING PATRICK SWAYZE

Title: RED DAWN Year: 1984 Director: John Milius Rating: ***1/2

By the time Powers Booth's Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Tanner is found near his crashed jet fighter plane, and then begins helping a band of young rebels fighting against an insanely unanticipated World War III, it seems like John Milius is finally directing the film he wanted to make all along...

Which is basically an old-fashion war picture, in this case beginning with a high school's perspective of being attacking by commandos, destroying and ultimately taking over the connected rural small town...

Brad Savage and Powers Booth in RED DAWN

Because Milius, unlike his APOCALYPSE NOW co-writer Francis Ford Coppola's THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH, never seems entirely game with RED DAWN being a movie about teenagers... with a bombastic, farfetched twist of Russia taking over America, and much of the actual war... of course involving nuclear weapons... we only hear about from one of many monologues by Powers Booth...

Who's a hypnotic oratory performer and yet, other than leader Patrick Swayze... who seems around twenty-seven (or brother Charlie Sheen, barely important after the plot's underway)... we lose touch with the other youthful side-characters, while almost equally focusing on comparably dull enemy leaders Ron O'Neal and William Smith...

Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen in RED DAWN

And RED DAWN nearly becomes even more of a violent body count flick than Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT... where Booth himself survives after practically everyone else is gone...

And frankly, too many people wind up dead (as unimportant ones survive)... while only Swayze's future DIRTY DANCING partner Jennifer Grey and token gung-ho nutjob C. Thomas Howell really stand out in this controversially maligned vehicle, negatively considered right wing, being that Russia's an actual physical threat (perhaps spooking Hollywood liberals that the ongoing Cold War may get thawed out)...

School Attack Scene in RED DAWN

But that's where THE WIND AND THE LION auteur Milius (with regulars Frank McCrea, Ben Johnson and Harry Dean Stanton) genuinely feels at home... with nostalgic themes of modernized Americana... while RED DAWN succeeds as an entertaining war-genre throwback yet somewhat fails as what should be more strategically character-driven...

Overall paling to a terrific opening scene, where enemy paratroopers land outside a classroom, making everything else feel like a hectic outdoors survival guide... but with Swayze in a surprisingly effective/literally commanding role within creatively-shot sequences of nifty guerilla warfare, it's a pretty decent way to spend two-hours, the 1980's way.

Frank McCrea in RED DAWN
C. Thomas Howell and Doug Toby in RED DAWN
Jennifer Grey in RED DAWN
Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen in RED DAWN with C. Thomas Howell
Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen in RED DAWN
Powers Booth and Lea Thompson in RED DAWN
C. Thomas Howell in RED DAWN
Patrick Swayze  in RED DAWN
Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen in RED DAWN

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