Red Dawn

Monday 17th February 2014

A group of high school kids in small town America wake up one morning to find North Korean soldiers parachuting into their driveways and waving guns at their parents. In a matter of minutes the whole of the United States is under the control of the nefarious North Koreans. How is this possible? It isn’t. The invaders were originally meant to be Chinese until some savvy studio exec pointed out that Chinese people buy a lot of films (apparently even films as shit as this) and so MGM decided to change the enemy to the far smaller demographic of North Korea. This would be why every enemy flag, badge, banner and insignia in the film looks just a little bit too clean – they’ve been plastered over with cheap CGI… If this fact alone isn’t enough to deter you from watching Red Dawn you probably deserve everything you get. As do I.

Where the film really falls down is in its total and utter lack of irony. Let’s break it down to the bare bones to begin with. A bunch of innocent civilians who are minding their own business in their own country suddenly find themselves invaded by a hostile army of particularly violent and self-important douchebags. Sound at all familiar? Let’s continue. Most of the country is soon occupied and forced to abide by new laws and regulations laid down by the invaders. Inevitably, small pockets of resistance spring up and begin fighting back. The resistance fighters use guerilla tactics to hit the enemy hard and disappear into the night after each attack. Their aim is simply to drive the enemy out of their country so they can free their families and get their lives back.

The preceding paragraph could easily be a description of the US invasion of Vietnam. Or Afghanistan… Iraq… Korea… However, these parallels have somehow been completely overlooked by the makers of Red Dawn, who filled the script with “inspiring” speeches like; “We’re not going to sell it to you. It’s too ugly for that. But when you’re fighting in your own backyard, when you’re fighting for your family, it all hurts a little less, and makes a little more sense. Because for them, this is just a place. But for us, this is our home!”

Hmmm… but when you guys invade other countries that you can’t even identify in an atlas you expect everyone to bow down in gratitude and buy a Big Mac…

How about this corker from US Marine and hero of Red Dawn, Jed Eckert; “When I was overseas we were the good guys, and we enforced order. Now we’re the bad guys, and we create chaos.” I love this guy. When he was in Afghanistan he was a hero enforcing order and the enemy were just a bunch of assholes resisting the one true path to (American) freedom and democracy (and Starbucks). Now the coin has flipped he can acknowledge that to the North Koreans he is the “bad guy” just as the Afghans were the “bad guy” to him, but he can’t see any other similarities between the two conflicts. There’s a point in the film where some North Korean dude is giving a speech about how they’re here to save the American people from their own corrupt culture of greed, stupidity and general ignorance (I’m paraphrasing because none of the dialogue was exactly memorable) and it sounds exactly like the kind of rhetoric American politicians throw around whenever they talk about their unjustified invasions of other countries… The North Koreans see themselves as the liberators of the American people, but of course to the Americans in Red Dawn they are evil invaders who deserve to be killed for trying to force their ideology on another country… Ok. This is taking that saying “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” to a whole new level.

It actually gets worse; during one spectacularly implausible gunfight a few of our heroes seek refuge in a Subway. The sandwich shop. Not an actual subway which would presumably provide far better cover against enemy fire… They hide out in a crowded sandwich shop with a big plate glass window at the front. While that is undeniably stupid and deserves to be ridiculed, the point I actually want to make is that most of the occupied Americans seem to be sitting around eating Subway sandwiches. There are no North Korean soldiers holding guns to their heads. They’re just enjoying their lunch. They honestly don’t seem at all bothered that their government has been deposed by a bunch of commies, as long as they can still get a Sub. Presumably at the other end of the block there’s a similar group of Americans wolfing down White Castle burgers. It’s not like their whole way of life seems to have been drastically changed; they aren’t being forced to eat dog-meat noodles or anything insensitive like that… so what the hell is the problem here? The North Korean invaders seem pretty efficient if nothing else. Sure they dress a few folks up in orange jumpsuits and stick them on a bus, but that’s probably a drop in the ocean compared to the number of people the US Government does that to every week… I noticed that not one person in the Subway threw their sandwich to the floor and picked up a gun to join the rebels. What is this film trying to tell us exactly? At this point the Americans actually come off looking worse than the North Koreans; they’re happily lazing around eating lunch while allowing their children to roam around the woods with guns taking potshots at trained soldiers… The message seems to be that freedom and democracy might be the cornerstones of this great nation, but the foundations are made of sandwiches.

Of course, Red Dawn does have more than its fair share of patriotism (a lot more actually). This comes mostly from the idiot kids who hole up in the woods and name their little guerilla army after their high school football team; “Go Wolverines!” Dickheads. Before the invasion we can’t help but notice that every car the high school kids drive is American, they have huge American flags hanging from their front porches, the film even opens during a game of American football. Despite all this patriotism and apparent unity, they seem to argue amongst themselves and turn on each other at every opportunity. During the football game Jed’s younger brother Matty goes against his coach’s orders, trying for personal glory and subsequently losing the game for his teammates. The two brothers barely speak to each other during the first half of the film despite Jed just returning from overseas service. Jed, the big hero, is also a bit of a douche. Right after the invasion, when it seems everyone should be sticking together, he punches a kid half his size and takes the kid’s gun. He’s then surprised when that kid gets caught and rats the rest of the gang out to the North Koreans. In my favourite scene in the film (which isn’t saying a lot), Jed the big, strong marine sits in a truck pushing the accelerator down while the little high school kids who are smaller, weaker and lighter than him try to push the truck out of the mud. What a bastard.

Then there’s the scene where Jed and Matty trick that Hunger Games kid into drinking the blood of a deer he’s just killed. Bearing in mind the boy’s parents have just been murdered by North Korean soldiers, it seems a bit insensitive to play a cruel practical joke on him. Also, as they’re living out in the woods with no access to healthcare or antibiotics, shouldn’t they be a bit more careful about hygiene? There’s the scene where Matty ruins a carefully orchestrated plan and gets one of his buddies killed just so he can save his girlfriend from an uncomfortable bus ride. Seriously, she doesn’t seem to be in any danger; there’s no suggestion that the North Koreans are doing anything worse than tickling their prisoners. There’s the scene where all the kids sacrifice Tom Cruise’s adopted son to save themselves. There’s the scene where little Cruise’s dad sides with the enemy and tries to help them capture his son. Why are these kids all trying so hard to save their country when they don’t even seem to like each other?

There are many more things about Red Dawn that forced me to shake my head in utter disbelief. I think I’ll list them as quickly as possible just to save myself wasting any more time on this piece of crap. Why would Jeffrey Dean Morgan take a role in this piece of crap? Surely Tom Cruise could have got his son a role in the next Mission Impossible rather than this piece of crap? Who the hell is Josh Peck and why is his face so disgusting throughout this piece of crap? How lucky is that Hunger Games kid that this piece of crap’s release got delayed until after he got his big break? How did Chris Hemsworth not see the irony inherent in every frame of this piece of crap when he’s not even American? And again, how lucky is Chris Hemsworth that this piece of crap was delayed until after Thor?

Then there are the glaring inconsistencies in the script; if the North Koreans can so easily plant a tracking device in the arse of Tom Cruise’s son, why wouldn’t they take the time to attach one to their top secret communications equipment upon which the success of their entire operation depends? Just in case, y’know, it should be stolen by a renegade high school football team or something… And why would they carry such top secret and vital equipment around on show in a handy little portable case for everyone to see? Then there’s the concept of a single US Marine training six or seven little pussies to conduct intricate covert operations against the highly-trained professional soldiers of a dangerously paranoid and hostile country… Jed must be a military genius of the highest caliber because he manages to perform this feat during a single montage using only a couple of Super-Soaker 5000s and some trees. This extensive training then enables the kids to use everything from pistols to rifles to rocket propelled grenades with unerring accuracy and panache.

Even the patriotic message of the film seems blurred and ill-defined. Despite the abundance of American flags and cars, Jed soon throws away all the local guns they lay their hands on, declaring that they’re useless against the North Korean’s superior firepower. He then hatches a plan to steal weapons from the enemy for all their future skirmishes. This seems pretty odd in a film that purportedly values the American way of life above all else. I was expecting Jed and company to tool up with guns made by Smith & Wesson or Winchester and chase down the North Koreans in the back of a Dodge pickup or a Ford Mustang while chomping down on some beef jerky and drinking Coors Light (they are underage after all). Of course, when your country’s invaded by a better-equipped and funded hostile army you have to do whatever you can to keep fighting for your freedom… “Go Wolverines!”

Red Dawn is quite possibly the most ironic piece of cinema ever created and it has no idea that this is the case. How any American can watch this and not think; “Wow, so this is how all those foreigners must feel when we take a big steaming dump on their country, steal their natural resources and sell them Justin Bieber records,” is entirely beyond me.

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