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‘Red Dawn’: THR’s 1984 Review

On August 10, 1984, MGM/UA unveiled the war drama Red Dawn, featuring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below: 

While John Milius’ Red Dawn casts little constructive light on modern Anglo-Soviet relations, its rising at the height of our present Olympics-inspired patriotism represents a rather shrewd bit of capitalistic marketing strategy.

Reaction to the MGM/UA’s release’s depiction of a home-soil invasion repelled by teenage guerrillas may nonetheless prove a resounding nyet. It packs plenty of rabble-rousing ammunition, but its sloppy execution is unlikely to win any merit badges for marksmanship. 

The place is Calumet, Colo. — Sleepysville U.S.A. The film begins without prelude as an advance guard of Russian and Cuban paratroopers drop in on a history teacher’s Genghis Khan lecture for some impromptu displays of barbarity. Pretty soon the commies have annihilated most of the town’s citizenry, incarcerated the survivors in “reeducation camps” and  —  horror of horrors — booked continues showings of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky at the local moviehouse. 

It’s left to a ragtag bunch of teenage refugees known as “The Wolverines” to pick up the fight for truth, justice and the American Way — a task they accomplish with implausible ease in a series of crudely directed confrontations climaxing in their flight from a commune of hyped-up Russian helicopters that look suspiciously like harbingers of “Red Thunder.”

Caught in the scattershot crossfire of Milius and Kevin Reynolds’ script — in Reynolds’ original story, perhaps — is a fairly chilling portrait of America under siege. Yet Milus fails to make properly ironic use of cinematographer Ric Waite’s shimmering landscapes and production designer Jackson De Govia’s apple-pie facades, preferring to play the action as a modern-day ’40s Resistance movie, full of grand heroic flourishes that border on the self-parodic. You can practically hear the bells tolling beneath Basil Poledouris’ ornately orchestral score. 

The kids themselves — Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Darren Dalton, Jennifer Grey, Brad Savage and Doug Toby — rarely go beyond expressions of granite-faced determination. Adults tend to have considerably shorter life spans, but there are compelling individual moments from Powers Boothe as a downed American flyer and Ron O’Neal as a Cuban officer sympathetic to the rebels’ cause. 

Best of all is the ever-watchable Harry Dean Stanton, who, in his single moment of common-man indignation as Swayze’s father, almost singlehandedly wipes away the cloud of muddled ideals that otherwise obscures this Red Dawn. — Kirk Ellis, originally published on August 6, 1984.

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