Cinema: The Gams and Guns of August

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A quartet of comedies and thrillers for dog-day afternoons


Teddy Pierce (Gene Wilder) is a sound husband, father and junior executive who, at a glance, falls prey to an obsession with the leggy Woman in Red (Kelly Le Brock). He is also the leading player in one of this summer's more pungent pleasures: a well-made sex farce of classical proportions. If there is a horse to fall off or an airplane forced to land at the wrong airport, you may be sure Teddy will be aboard.

And if there is a husband who decides to return home ahead of schedule, you may be sure Teddy will encounter him—and scramble out onto a ledge 100 ft. above the ground.

Adapting the 1977 French movie Pardon Man Affaire to his own rubber-faced disciplines, Writer-Director Wilder has fashioned an ironic, worldly, yet sternly moral comedy that gives an energizing twist to every farcical convention and finds the perfect timing for every rubber-faced reaction to calamity. Judith Ivey as a wife whose dimness is perfectly shaded, Gilda Radner as an angry romantic, and Charles Grodin as a secretive goof all follow their leader's spirit. The result is the summer's first comedy for adults. May they respond profitably to so rare a gift. —By Richard Schickel RED DAWN

Ronald Reagan may have been kidding when he announced that he had authorized the nuking of the Soviet Union.

John Milius, though, is deadly serious.

For 15 years the writer-director has been devising scenarios of mastodon machismo (Jeremiah Johnson, Magnum Force, Big Wednesday, Apocalypse Now) in which Real Men—guys so tough you could ice-skate on them—attain a state of Zen purity through self-denial, cunning and random slaughter. But these films were like peace pamphlets compared with his latest crimson vision. In Red Dawn he and Co-Author Kevin Reynolds suggest that the U.S. is susceptible to military takeover by parachuting Communist troops; that the Soviets would establish "reeducation camps" in Colorado and show Ivan the Terrible at the local moviehouse; and that an army of Cubans and Soviets could be stalemated by the woodlore and firepower of half a dozen Foolhardy Boys and a couple of radical feminist teenyboppers.

It gets worse—or better, depending on your tolerance for fascist fantasies. The most sensitive boy in the group (C. Thomas Howell) is compelled to drink the blood of a freshly killed deer; later, asked what it was like to kill a man, he grunts, "It was good."The town high school's star quarterback (Patrick Swayze) turns to tossing grenades soon after his father shouts, "Avenge me! Avenge me!" He refuses, however, to kill a wounded female comrade (Lea Thompson), so she borrows a spare grenade to blow up herself and an enemy soldier. Red Dawn is too crude and incoherent to be taken either seriously by Milius' ideological allies or frivolously by the nuclear-freezers. So how to explain the robust $8.2 million in ticket sales on its first weekend of release, when most Americans were engaged in the sissy activity of watching the Olympics? Perhaps the film's audience loves guerrilla theater, no matter who the bad guys are. You can, after all, key a crowd up by shooting at anything that moves. It doesn't even have to be red. —By Richard Corliss TIGHTROPE

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