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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Red Dawn

RED DAWN (One Star)
U. S.: Dan Bradley, 2010-2012

Red Dawn, a thoroughly idiotic movie, is an amazingly daffy  remake of John Milius’ Cold War bang-bang fantasy of the same title.  That 1984 jaw-dropper was an action teen movie about high school guys and footballers turned anti-Red guerillas: a band of letterman brothers led by Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell, battling a Soviet invasion in Colorado.

1984, in the height of the Reagan era, was probably a good time for the original movie. I doubt a good time exists for its feckless, dopey, off-the-wall cinematic progeny.

Here, in the new Dawn — directed by Dan Bradley and written, or maybe scribbled, by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore — the setting is Spokane, Washington and our fearless young guerillas-to-be play for the local high school football team, the Wolverines. But that’s only the beginning. In the raging world battle to come, after a flabbergasting parachute invasion of Spokane by the North Korean army, the guys reassemble with the team’s prima donna quarterback Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) and are led, far more decisively, by Matt’s stoic Marine vet older brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth). Their foes are that sizable, but curiously inept mass of invaders from the land of Kim Jong-un.

Wait a minute. North Korea? Really? The movie begins with a football game, which the Wolverines lose. Then it fiddles around in a bar for a while, and proceeds the next morning to that air assault on Spokane, with nobody later offering resistance (that we can see, for the moment), but that local quarterback, his teammates and his older pre-Thor brother.

That’s the deal. For most of the movie it’s just the Wolverines, and a few outsiders, against the Korean red hordes, led by the photogenic, but somewhat impotent, Col. Cho (Wil Yun Lee), who keeps spotting the Wolverines and letting them get away. If you’re wondering why North Korea and their new leader and the fumble-fingered Col. Cho would want to invade a city like Spokane, instead of just dropping a bomb somewhere, and probably missing — well, wonder away. As far as I could tell, it was all part of a bizarre war plan (triggered by a prologue of TV appearances by Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, all warning about coming cyber-wars) that seemed to involve the subjugation of most of the U,S. blue states from the last election.

Actually, there’s a simpler explanation. The villains in the script and movie were originally Chinese, but MGM had financial problems, the movie was shelved, and then, after Hemsworth became a bigger star, and worries arose about losing Chinese box office, the show was digitally altered and reworked to turn all the Chinese references into North Korean ones. (Me, I would have gone for Luxembourg, or maybe the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.)

Anyway, that new change proves even more wildly implausible than the Chinese invasion in the earlier version, and the Soviet invasion of Milius’ original. North Korea may have a fraction of the U..S.‘s population, a fraction of our weaponry and nuclear arsenal, a fraction of our computer hackers, and a fraction of our Hollywood screenwriters and FX experts. But their invasion, at least as this movie imagines it, is astonishingly successful, triggering what seems to be a total collapse of the U. S. air defenses, T. V. networks and ground, sea and air troops, including the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast guard, all local police departments, Civil Defense, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, all local gun clubs and the Marines (except one).

There’s nobody, it seems, who can fight these bastards and withstand their deadly parachute drops but a few football buddies, the Wolverines (who don‘t even have their helmets), hiding out in the woods, plus Jeffrey Dean Morgan, of Jane Fonda‘s last movie, Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, who wanders by.

The basic premise of this Red Dawn reboot, the high concept behind this addled war game, seems to be “Go Wolverines!“ The hook is “Football pals and sexy girls hide out in the forest, find big guns, and shoot evil North Koreans, who have conquered Spokane for some damned reason that nobody bothers to explain, including all the pundits on Fox News.” I did notice that the American “free zone” after the invasion seemed to bounded by Michigan, Montana, Alabama and Arizona, an odd configuration that would seem to correspond to many of the red states won by Mitt Romney in the last vote. A conspiracy? Secession? Maybe. But maybe North Korea simply misunderstood the meaning of the term “red state.”

It seems to me that if you’re determined to do a remake of Red Dawn, there are only two non-comedic ways to do it, neither very promising. You can go right wing gung ho and turn the story into an actual all-out war between blue states and seceding red states. Or you can go left wing paranoid and turn it into  a story about young football players and one returning vet older brother, disgruntled after their loss, getting some bad dope in the woods,  going paranoid, and imagining there’s been a Chinese or North Korean invasion, with John Boorman-Sam Peckinpah results. Like I said, neither is very promising but I bet they’re better springboards than this.

Dan Bradley, who directed this balderdash — a movie it would be flattering  to call a travesty — is a very active and successful second unit action director who keeps the action here exploding, I presume, right on schedule. The technical work is better, I bet, than the North Koreans could have managed, even if you put their parachute experts to work on it. The less said about the writing, the better. The actors, I assume, cashed all their pay checks. But if President Obama, Biden and Clinton have anything coming, I’d advise them to donate it all to charities — in South Korea.

I’ve always thought that the 1984  Red Dawn was the only movie made by the enormously talented Milius (screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and director of The Wind and the Lion) where his right wing politics embarrassed him, and his talent couldn’t save him. But I was unfair. The ’84 Red Dawn,, after all , is a watchable movie, with a good cast and a good lead performance by Swayze. It even made money. The 2012 Red Dawn is so bad on every conceivable level — except as a promotional film for Noth Korean parachutes — that it makes the original Red Dawn look like Apocalypse Now.



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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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~ David Simon