The Late Shift: Red Dawn

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What's up, turkeys? While most of you were cramming your faces with various types of reheated poultry and falling asleep in front of the TV to the sound of football and/or A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, I joined a few dozen true Americans to see reactionary cinema at its finest. The Belcourt screened the original Red Dawn as counter-programming to the newly released (and, by all regards, completely terrible) remake. But let's not talk about that little engine that could — but probably shouldn't. It's Patrick Swayze time.

Red Dawn is the improbable story of Calumet, Colo., a sleepy mountain town that is besieged by communist forces in a hostile takeover of America. Why does the combined might of Russia, Cuba and Nicaragua want to occupy a tiny town that — in reality — was abandoned in the 1970s? Hell, I don't know. What are you, some kind of a commie? Point is, Swayze Dogg and a motley crew of jocks, nerds and assorted randos take to the mountains, waging guerrilla warfare on the occupiers in a fit of vengenance-fueled liberation.

You can probably see why this movie was optioned for a remake back in 2008 when the tea party revolution was still on the tips of our tongues. It makes less sense in 2012, after major victories by the socialist elite that those same groups decried (most of us know them as “moderate Democrats” but whatevs).

I don't think I'll get any arguments if I describe Red Dawn as terribly stupid. It's an unsophisticated video game of a movie, eschewing character development for explosions and plot developments for bloodthirsty screeds and homicidal rage. The characters are silly political marionettes, especially the politician and his student-council president son, whose appeasement tactics would put Neville Chamberlain to shame. Would it surprise you that the popular quarterback (Swayze) is the film's great hero and that the pacifist nerds get gunned down early on? Didn't think so!

In other words, Red Dawn is a crazy product of its time — a war fantasy concocted in the waning years of the Cold War. And while it's totally silly, it does have a few things going for it. The movie's cheap video-game pacing is engaging for a while: Director John Milius manages to mix it up enough that you're not dozing upon the start of the third act. Which really helps in a midnight movie, since Red Dawn is two hours long — longer than most of the films that get picked for this series by half an hour.

On top of its chug-a-lug pacing, the movie manages to be effective in most of its action scenes. The opening with the paratroopers is a good one; so is the trailer-worthy scene where the Wolverines pop out of the ground to mow down a couple of crazed soldiers who are chasing one of the teen girls. Which gets back to that weird political marionetting of the characters as either American Heroes™, sniveling cowards or frothing mad enemy combatants. There are no grey areas in the movie, which means you can more or less shut off your brain and enjoy watching Charlie Sheen open fire on Russkie helicopters.

As much as I begrudge the '80s nostalgia films that make their way into midnight movie circuits (see also: The Goonies), I didn't have that much of a problem with Red Dawn. It's not a good movie by any stretch of the meaning, but it is a serviceable popcorn flick. After a couple of days of intense family-driven socialization, sometimes it's fun to power down and let things blow up on screen. And while Red Dawn isn't nearly as fun as its competitor film Miami Connection, which was back for an encore screening, it's still more fun than its dour Toby Keith-lovin' remake.

Wolverines!

- Seeing as how this movie fell on Thanksgiving weekend, I can't fault the Belcourt for going a bit more low-key with the midnight movie accoutrements. The drink special was discounted draft beer (because “cocktails are for commies”) and Jason, our midnight-movie Sherpa, was out of town. Hey, that's all fine with me. I gladly accepted a $4 Jackalope Rompo in the place of the usual high-concept potent potables.

- By far, the best part of Red Dawn was comparing it to the Weekend Classics screening of Grand Illusion the next day. What's the deal, Jean Renoir? Didn't you get the memo that enemy captors are supposed to be one-dimensional monsters who desire nothing more than attempted rape and the slaughter of innocents? Also, Grand Illusion is brilliant. It would be a terrible midnight movie, but only because it's thoughtful and slowly paced with very few explosions to speak of.

- As much as I enjoyed the tiny droplets of information of what's going down outside of Calumet (apparently Denver has gone cannibal), my favorite scene in the movie is the hilariously heavy-handed cut to a “they can have my gun when they pry it from my cold dead fingers” bumper sticker, followed by a Russian soldier literally prying a handgun out of the hands of a dead guy. Political commentary!

- I got into the theater pretty late, so I missed most of the pre-roll, but this video on how to recognize a communist was pretty hilarious.

- A bit of a Late Shift programming note. Next week, The Room returns to The Belcourt after a successful run earlier this year. As you'll recall from February, I already said my piece about this dumb movie that I love so much. I mean, of course I'm going anyway (for what must be the 10th time). So I'm taking a break. See y'all in December!

Coming Up: Oh hi, Belcourt.

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