Swayze Fights from Dusk till Dawn
What is there to say about "Red Dawn" which hasn't already been said such as it being the first movie to get a PG-13 certificate causing controversy because of the level of brutality and violence, which seeing as it's a movie about teenagers aimed partly at teenagers was sort of justified back in the early 80s. Well one thing which can most definitely be said is despite some issues with the dialogue and acting "Red Dawn" is remarkably entertaining in the same manner as the old war movies were. It has spirit, it has action, it's unrepentantly patriotic and is the sort of movie which is sadly missing from modern cinema.
When Russian soldiers invade their town as part of an attack on America, a small group of teenagers lead by Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze - Keeping Mum) manage to escape and head up in to the hills as they try and make sense what is going on. It soon becomes apparent that the Russians have not only taken over their small town but many others across Central America. Armed with only the weapons they managed to grab as they fled to the hills they take the name of "Wolverines" after their high school football team and wage guerrilla warfare on the Russians who in turn wage war on them.
It has to be said that the idea of Russians invading America is not only now seriously dated but also quite fanciful, it just isn't really believable. As such "Red Dawn" is unrepentantly patriotic with this band of teenagers attempting to avenge the death of their friends and family whilst sticking it to the enemy. You could go as far as saying it's almost propaganda like with it's portrayal of the invading Russians and the sheer patriotism of all the Americans. But in a strange way the whole patriotism isn't such an issue or at least not as cheesy as later movies became with their in your face America's going to save the day jingoism. It is in fact quite empowering that these teenagers feel so strongly that they stand up for what they believe is right.
But get past the whole patriotism thing and the fact that the storyline is dated and "Red Dawn" is like a combination of war and western movies tied together with an almost boy scout element. It's entertaining to watch the teenagers lead by Jed take refuge in the mountains and then take on the enemy. It's again a little fantasy like the way they trap the enemies, take their name 'Wolverines' from the local high school team and so on but it's entertaining escapism. It feels like someone has taken those make pretend war games that children use to play and transferred them into a movie and it's wonderful for doing so.
And in bringing that action to life "Red Dawn" is both action packed and surprisingly violent. Director John Milius sets his stall out early with the opening scene which sees paratroopers landing in a high school field and then barbarically gunning innocents down including Frank McRae who plays a teacher. It's a shocking scene even now and that level of brutality when it comes to killing continues through out right up until the end. I can see why it courted controversy when released back in 1984 but by today's standards "Red Dawn" is not so much tame but a lot less controversial. And making all this violence work are some stunning special effects, mainly explosions but what explosions they are giving that honest feel of war where things get blown up in dramatic style.
All of which makes "Red Dawn" a surprisingly good movie, except it's spoilt by two things. The first of these is the dialogue which far too often borders on the cheesy making those scenes which should be honestly emotional end up almost laughable. It's not just the emotional scenes which end up feeling wrong as those scenes of machismo are just full of daft pseudo macho dialogue which ends up more comical than anything.
The corny dialogue is partly at fault for the other issue and that is the acting is often less than impressive. With a movie which features Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson none of them are overly convincing in their roles. Fair do's "Red Dawn" came relatively early on in the careers of all these actors who went on to greater things but they rarely find the real emotion of a scene and combined with the dialogue makes it almost comical at times. Although put any of them in an action scene and they feel more at home delivering some truly impressive scenes.
Aside from these young actors the actual best acting comes from the more seasoned performers such as Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe and Frank McRae who despite all having quite small parts make the most of what little screen time they get.
What this all boils down to is that yes "Red Dawn" is seriously dated and feels just a little too patriotic at times. But it has that feel of an old fashioned war movie, the escapism of childhood where you would pretend to take on the enemies and as such is wonderfully entertaining. It does suffer from some poor acting and cheesy dialogue but the whole feel, the action and excitement makes it still a very entertaining movie.