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Red Dawn

posted by Jon on 2/21/03

Most of us have a personal "cult" movie. You know, a movie that no one else seems to like but you. A movie that you reference whenever the possibility arises. A movie that crappy punk bands pay tribute to by writing a song that summarizes the plot in under two minutes.

Aha! They are playing the Scooby-Doo theme song very quickly, so it is both funny and awesome!

Problem is, nobody wants to hear about other peoples' cult movies, ever. Whenever the subject comes up, you just wait for the other person to stop babbling about "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" so you can start gushing about the Karate Kid movies. Efforts to convince people of the brilliance of a cult movie are, almost by definition, doomed to failure. For example, Rocky Dennis week was certainly entertaining, but I was still not moved enough to go out and rent the movie "Mask". I mean, I like Jim Carrey and all, but once you've seen one of his movies, you've seen them all.

I acknowledge that I am fighting an uphill battle here. Perhaps it's a mountain of reader apathy, or perhaps it's a mountain of smaller, yet equally steep mountains. Whatever the case, I see it as my duty to help you understand the brilliance of this cult film of mine.

I present to you: "Red Dawn".

You know what? I take that back. I'm not going to embarrass myself by saying it's brilliant. And I probably shouldn't call it a "film", either -- I like to save that term for the "seriously good" movies. Make no mistake -- "Red Dawn" isn't a film, it's a flick. And it sure is a hell of a lot of fun. The film is set as follows:

The year is 1984, when paranoia over a Soviet-led invasion was still justified in the minds of many. Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) drops his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) off at his high school in a small town in Colorado. Class starts, and the teacher has just started on his lesson when he looks out the window and sees paratroopers landing on the football field.

World War III has begun.

I can't really think of a better way to start a movie. It's like they found some 15-year-old daydreaming in first period Algebra class, dragged him out into the hall, and told him to write a screenplay. For a dorky, socially awkward high school freshman such as myself, it was the ideal fantasy . I sure as hell wasn't going to be able to score or even talk to girls under conventional circumstances, and the only believable possibility to me was one in which Soviet Russia promptly rebuilt itself, filled up its planes with a bunch of their elite paratroopers, and decided to land in a high school in the middle of the country for some reason. When a commie tried to break in the classroom, I would kick the gun out of his hand and ram his head into the doorjamb, therein saving the day. For some reason that I was never quite able to justify, the somewhat hot yet still believably attainable chick would run into the hills with me and we'd have a lot of sex. Sometimes one must suspend every element of logic and practicality to imagine the impossible to be possible.

That's sort of what "Red Dawn" is able to accomplish. The premise is absurd and requires frequent suspicion of disbelief. But that doesn't matter, or rather, it works to its advantage, because although "Red Dawn" takes itself seriously, deep down it's a "fun movie".

After climbing into the back Jed's pickup truck, Matt, Robert, Danny, Daryl and Aardvark (don't ask me, I have no clue) head for Robert's father's convenience store near the outskirts of town and raid his shelves for all the survival equipment they can carry. Robert's dad tells them to load up on guns, canned foods, and sleeping bags, and to head for the mountains.

I've always wanted an excuse to do that. I think I need an excuse as substantial as a Commie invasion to go through with it, though, otherwise I'd just half-ass it. Many a time my friends and I have envisioned "survival camping trips" in which we'd rough it for a week straight. Usually we'd get out there, sit around, eat some marshmallows we didn't feel like roasting, sleep in the car, and head home the next day. On second thought, forget it. Americans like myself are creatures of comfort, not men and women of principle, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can start running the sickle and hammer up our flagpoles.

LITTLE KNOWN QUOTE! Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "Those who would give up essential Liberties for a measure of Security, deserve neither Liberty nor Security!" LITTLE KNOWN QUOTE!

But even though we Americans don't possess enough principle to give up our unhealthy addiction to foreign oil and employ Segways as our primary means of transportation, we like to watch movies that promote the idea of the American who will fight for what is right.

And who better to fight back against those who would trespass on our freedoms than Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen? No one, except for the characters they play. They learn that their father has been executed along with several others for dissenting from the new Soviet regime, and launch a campaign of guerrilla warfare. Naming themselves the "Wolverines" after their high school mascot, they obtain cans of spray paint and spray "Wolverines" all over just about anything they can find. They start small, armed only with their bows and hunting rifles, but much akin to a first-person shooter, they pick up weapons of enemy dead -- automatic rifles, rocket launchers, grenades, etc. -- and instantly become munitions experts. In fact, this movie as a whole feels a lot like a first-person shooter, except Swayze doesn't strafe across walls holding SPACE in an effort to find the secret door that leads to the BFG-9000 or steaming-hot chicken. At least, not very much.

A few more months pass. The Eckert brothers and their gaggle of friends have been avenging their families' deaths for a while now. They've taken out firing squads and raided scouting parties without much of a fight. Along the way, they pick up a couple of girls that have been hiding in an underground crawlspace for three weeks, which only serves to complete my adolescent fantasy. All this has been fun so far, but the viewer still hasn't been offered any sort of explanation as to why and how the Commies invaded.

But have no fear. As he always does, Powers Boothe parachutes in to explain everything.

Allow me to go off on a little tangent here. Just as we all have "cult movies", most of us also have "cult actors". Now, it's not considered cool to have a favorite cult actor such as Tom Hanks or Mel Gibson. He or she should be a character actor, preferably one who everyone recognizes but whose name nobody knows. Powers Boothe is my favorite "cult actor", if only because he has the coolest name ever.

Boothe plays Colonel Andy Tanner, whose fighter jet gets shot down over the Rockies. He finds the Wolverines, and explains to them and the viewer what the hell is going on. Apparently, the Communist economies around the world were crumbling, and for some reason they decided that attacking America would fix things. Commandos from Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua made their way into the central U.S. via commercial airliners. They took out major communications centers, paving the way for milllions of Communist troops to roll in from Canada and Mexico. They control just about everything from the Rockies to the Mississippi, leaving America split in two.

I can hear you snickering. What are you laughing about? It could happen, and if that's the kind of attitude you're going to have about it, it WILL.

Haha. Stupid footsoldiers.

The best exchange in the movie comes when the Colonel is explaining this to the gang:

(COLONEL TANNER sits near the campfire with the WOLVERINES.)
Colonel Tanner: Europe's sittin' this one out. All except England, and they won't last long.
Jed: So...who is on our side?
Colonel Tanner: Eight hundred million screaming Chinamen.
Jed: Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
Colonel Tanner: THERE WERE.
(COLONEL TANNER stokes the coals in the fire, and a violent flame shoots out. The WOLVERINES jump back in horror.)

When asked why the armies invaded, Tanner shrugs and says, "Two of the biggest kids on the block. Sooner or later, they're gonna fight...Maybe they just forgot what it was like." At this point, one doesn't even get the feeling that they're even trying to make things logically sound or believable. But you know, sometimes it's nice to be able to sit back and watch a flick that's easy on the ol' synapses.

A few subplots are thrown into the movie for good measure. The Colonel, who is married, starts falling for one of the underage chicks. One of the Soviet commanders starts to get all mushy and keeps talking about how war is vain and stupid. Aardvark gets killed, which doesn't really matter since he says about two lines in the entire movie.

Since I want you to watch this movie, I'm not going to tell you who all dies or how it ends. Why do I want you to watch it? It's mostly ego-driven. I'm one of those losers that want to watch a movie they've already seen so that the other person or persons can see it. You know the type: when you watch it, they spend more time looking at you to see your reaction than the movie itself, and afterwards try to get you to talk about how great it was. When someone actually does compliment it, I myself feel complimented. I'm not really sure why; I didn't make the movie. Perhaps it's some deeply-rooted recognition that since I'll never do anything worth complimenting, I had damn well better attach my ego to something that might have a shot.

Misplaced narcissism aside, though, I want you to see "Red Dawn" because it's a truly fun experience, and I want you to enjoy it because I love each and every one of you. It has some very powerful things to say, which are made all the more poignant by the tragic events of September 11th.

(Has it been too long for me to still be able to milk that? Mmm...nah.)

Yeah, September 11th. That's the ticket.

AIM: Boiskov

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