SUCKER PUNCH SQUAD: 'Red Dawn' Remake Is...

The script of the upcoming remake of the infamous America-conquered-by-Commies movie Red Dawn (1984) raises an intriguing question – can Hollywood actually still produce a movie where it takes America’s side? The answer is “Sort of.”

wolverines
"Wolverines!"

There are some welcome ideological surprises lurking within the script’s 104 pages. Shockingly, Hollywood actually seems to accept the premise that if the Chinese and Russkies invade the United States we are justified in fighting back with hot lead instead of teach-ins and choruses of Kumbayah. But the script also displays a bit of the moral illiteracy we’ve come to expect from the Hollywoodoids – naturally, the script has to imply that we kinda brought the invasion on ourselves and that resisting tyranny somehow means becoming just as bad as the tyrants.

The re-imagining of Red Dawn will be released later this year and does very little actual re-imagining of the original’s simple plot. We first meet some all-American teenagers. They play high school football, party, and talk and look like CW series cast members – not real bright, but pretty (the pretty part in the script). For some reason, the Soviets (replaced here by the Chinese with a Russian assist) invade America and seize their hometown. Their town’s tactical significance appears to be that invading it advances the plot. Anyway, the teenagers go up into the mountains, score some of the firearms our prescient Founders ensured we’d always have the right to keep and bear despite the best efforts of those gun control-loving wusses, and launch a bloody guerrilla war against the invaders.

Sure, that sounds awesome in theory, but John Milius’s original Red Dawn was – well, let me be diplomatic – probably one of the silliest movies ever made. And I loved it. When you combine killing communists with unbelievable camp – like the teen warriors’ giggle-inducing battle cry of “Wolverines!” and Harry Dean Stanton’s memorable scene that ends with him hollering “Avenge me!” – and then add some beer, you’ve got one hell of an awesome time at the movies. In the quarter century since its release, it’s inspired a cult following. A young captain even adapted the title as the name of the Army operation that rounded up the late, unlamented Saddam Hussein.

Now, I’m not here to evaluate the aesthetic worthiness of Carl Ellsworth’s script. I’ll leave that task to someone with the expertise to properly critique its unique aesthetic qualities – like noted reviewer Hackey von Hackenheimer. I will say that Ellsworth must have sat through a few of those screenwriting seminars because you can set your watch by the predictable action beats (“Hmmm, we’re three quarters through the script, so time for Act III to begin: {*types into FinalDraft 8*} ‘MCGUFFIN ENTERS and provides motivation for climactic battle sequence.’”)

Let’s just say you won’t walk out of the theater feeling that your prior conception of what “cinema” is has been radically redefined.

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Of course, there’s no Patrick Swayze here. Boo. And the new Red Dawn also unforgivably omits the cry of “Avenge me!” in favor of a much lamer substitute. Those interested in specifics of the plot, such as it is, can peruse this spoiler-filled synopsis. As John Nolte memorably put it, we're here to spot the liberal sucker punches for you, not to reveal fanboy-centric plot points like whether Boba Fett's helmet will be dented on the right side or the left side.

The hero is Jed, probably because Hollywoodoids think everyone who lives east of the I-5 is named “Jed,” or possibly “Zachariah” or “Cletus.” Jed is a 22-year old Marine who has come home after fighting in Iraq. I guess the fact that he’s not portrayed as a raving psycho counts as something like progress. The script’s view of Iraq is ambiguous, as demonstrated by Jed’s exchange with a local hick who incoherently swings between gung ho belligerence and neo-isolationist cliches.

Returning vets do get into those kinds of conversations, but it’s usually with Blue State quarter-wits sounding off with Mother Jones talking points. Whatever – we should just be grateful Jed doesn’t launch into a speech about how Bu$hitler lied and his buddies died, or how Dick Cheney, in association with the Carlyle Group, hid WMDs in oil wells to raise Haliburton’s stock price.

There are a couple of nice scenes. Early on, the escapees get to a cabin and decide to arm themselves with the firearms stored there. The script does not see this as odd or unusual – it rightly assumes that every American should always ensure his or her ready access to weapons in order to be able to do their duty and defend their society in time of emergency. However, the cabin's owner had failed to stockpile a sufficient amount of ammunition, and the script properly points out this major lapse. All real Americans should always be ready with adequate supplies of arms and ammunition – after all, “Bang” is the sound an American makes while maintaining this country’s freedom.

Jed trains up his guerrillas and they start killing the Chinese occupiers. That’s cool. Some might scoff at the notion that a bunch of armed rural folks could have any effect against a professional army. I would note the fact that we don’t speak with an English accent and enjoy our beer cold rather than warm and by the pint. I would also note the example of a Finnish hunter who personally took out at least 705(!) Russian soldiers, and observe that deer are harder to hit than people. Now, the training scenes are a bit perfunctory (I’d have gone for an 80s-style musical montage myself) and the “Wolverines” go from high school kids to steely-eyed killers pretty quickly – though they sure babble about their feelings a lot. A lot.

There is also a rudimentary explanation of the theory of insurgency – Ellsworth rightly does not seem to think his kids can win by literally forcing the stronger enemy to flee by inflicting damage, rather than by forcing their departure by setting conditions among the populace that make further occupation too painful to bear. Guerrillas who get in stand-up firefights with counter-insurgents tend to become dead guerrillas.

And there’s a refreshing take on the proper response to those foreigners who murder Americans - the script actually agrees that you fight back and kill them. I wish I could share the exact quote, but just seeing that sentiment on the page of a Hollywood script is a revelation. Did someone at a Rodeo Drive bistro secretly spike Ellsworth’s Pellegrino with Awesome Coolness Pills, because Hollywood needs more of that kind of clarity and old-fashioned can-do. I need a cigarette after reading something like that.

It’s not all awesome. There are a couple of throw-away lines where the Chinese invasion is explained, in part, by the massive liberal-spending binge debt we owe them. There are lots of reasons to worry about foreign debt; I’m not sure the threat of repossession is one of them. The explanation for how the wily, inscrutable Asian enemy (and the script does portray them as wily and inscrutable) pulled off the invasion is pretty lame too.

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Also, there’s an unintentionally hilarious scene where the junior varsity guerrillas get a drop on some US commandos, the leader of which introduces himself as a lieutenant in the Delta Force. Ummm. Well, that bunch does not take inexperienced lieutenants. And they don’t tell outsiders they are from “Delta Force.” And pulling an AK-47 on one of those guys is a good way to get a 7.62mm suppository – if you’re lucky.



There are no real sucker punches, but there is at least a sucker tap. The script really falls down on the job toward the middle, where Jed momentarily devolves into the kind of dork who spews the type of moral equivalence that might seem profound to a pampered UC Berkeley sophomore but that is, in reality, really stupid.

He whines that because he's using guerrilla tactics that he is now just like the jihadi scumbags he fought in Iraq. His girlfriend Toni inarticulately disagrees. This is supposed to be a moving moment, but it only served to move my lunch back up my esophagus.

The character of “Toni” should have smacked some sense into Jarhead Jed since the script didn’t have his drill sergeant around to do it.

You know, the audience is watching an uplifting and inspirational tale of shooting communists and all of a sudden this nonsense pops up. Just stop. Let's try another example. Nazis liked oxygen. Hey, Americans like oxygen too! Ergo, Hitler and Americans are the same, right? Nimrods. The fact that we kill bad people for killing us does not make us bad too. For the perpetual sophomores out there, the test of the morality of a conflict is the cause you fight for; the tools you use are largely irrelevant. American bayonet - good. Nazi bayonet - bad. I blame the public schools for this kind of nonsense and muddled reasoning – the “critical thinking” they purport to teach is actually anything but.

Let’s clarify for those who remain unclear – the act of shooting, blowing up, bludgeoning or otherwise eliminating those who threaten and murder Americans is an unambiguously good thing. What al Qaeda terrorists, Taliban, Shiite militias, Republican Guards, Viet Cong, North Koreans, Nazis, Imperial Japanese soldiers and their ilk feel or felt deeply in their little hearts and warped minds about their various causes is irrelevant and unworthy of attention -- except to the extent that understanding their thought processes facilitates defeating them. Their destruction was and is a moral necessity and unquestionably morally right; their fighting Americans was and is unquestionably morally wrong. Always. End of story.

Any questions? No? Good.

However, the script is admirably forthright on how best to deal with American traitors and collaborators. Let’s just say due process comes quickly and in pistol form. That’s refreshing. As a lawyer, I appreciate trials and such, but as someone who has known folks killed and wounded by such bastards, my perspective is different.

It’s nice to see that in Red Dawn, Hollywood is at least inching toward ideological sanity. The Americans are the good guys. The people trying to kill the Americans are the bad guys. In this way, if in no other, the new Red Dawn is just like real life.

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