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  Red Dawn
John Milius, USA, 1984
Rating: 4.0

Posted: December 24, 2003

Remember your high school days? Wasn't life wonderful back then? The world was so full of possibilities. Hope sprung eternal. Each day was an adventure under a cloudless blue sky, with fields of grass sweeping majestically in the warm breeze. Yes, indeed, it was a good time.

Not for me, though. For me, it was a different time. I remember how me and Patrick Swayze, and Charlie Sheen and some other guys, had to hide up in the mountains when the Russians invaded. Lemme tell ya, it was no picnic. It was hit and run, hit and run all the time. Pat (I used to call him Pat) would always tell me, "Let's go, we gotta keep those Ruskies running." We must have slaughtered hundreds of 'em. Things really got hairy when our dad, Harry Dean Stanton, got captured by the Russians and put into a re-education camp. I'll never forget the dramatic moment when he told us to avenge him. Man, did we ever! We captured a bunch of Soviet weapons and opened the whole can on them foreign devils! Whew! It was rough, I tell ya. Rough!

I know what you're thinking. Am I confusing my high school years with that classic Cold War flick Red Dawn? Sadly, I am not. This actually happened, and the events were so incredible that John Milius used the story for his film. Your next question is probably "Well, if that happened, how come we never heard anything about the Soviets or Cubans invading the continental United States and engaging in conventional warfare with high school students?" To which I say, are you suggesting that it didn't happen because you didn't see it on the news or hear about it on television? Who's being nave now? I guess you think we landed on the moon, too.

But seriously, folks -- If we can't have unfettered lesbianism, robots fighting dinosaurs or Kung Fu zombies, there's nothing better than a foreign invasion of the United States that has to be thwarted by Patrick Swayze. Say what you will about the film, the premise is pure genius. High school students are in class when foreign paratroopers land outside the school, encircle it, and machine-gun everyone inside, save for a small group that escapes. (The cool kids always got the breaks!) They make their way to a sporting goods store, load up on guns and camping equipment, and head into the mountains. After a few trips back into town, the students see Russian and Cuban military forces routinely rounding up townsfolk and mowing then down with machine gun fire. Eventually, the invaders track the students to the mountains and are ambushed by the young Americans, and thusly the resistance is born.

Look, this is a fine film. Does it require suspension of disbelief? Well, not for me, cause I was there, knee deep in it and, er, never mind. Red Dawn plays the hand it's dealt, and it offers a few pleasant surprises. Just when you think things are looking bleak, here comes Powers Boothe as a downed pilot who comes to give the young rebels some tactical guidance. Boothe adds a touch of class to the proceedings, and attempts to remind his pre-Brat Pack charges that killing changes a man, and that "all that hate will burn you up inside." In all fairness, he gives this speech to a kid sawing off a shotgun barrel -- probably not the ideal audience. Thankfully, the kids ignore him and escalate their attacks on the invaders, capture their weapons and hand them out to the townsfolk to expand the resistance.

Red Dawn is a splendid mix of action and patriotism, and serves as a harsh example to other nations who would dare to invade us (Canada, I'm looking at you!). We beat the Russians and Cubans with Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell (supported on light machine guns by Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey). Just imagine the devastation we could have inflicted if Tom Cruise had joined in!

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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