When people think about teen films from the 80s they fall into a John Hughes reverie, but for my money one of the best teen films of the decade had nothing to do with that guy or his players; it’s Taps, a 1981 military school drama with a killer cast, including George C Scott, Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn and Tom Cruise showing his true colors as a psychotic. And, of course, starring the legendary Ronny Cox, the kind of casting Hughes would never have the balls to indulge in.
Based on a novel, Taps is about a 141-year old military school facing extinction due to a new condo development. Things get pretty extreme and the students take over the facility, ending up in an armed face off with the real military. I really like the film not just because of the excellent performances by the young cast, but also because it’s got a certain level of complexity and ambiguity, and it’s a great look at how hard it is for us as teens to come to accept the grey areas of the world. And it has a balls out ending that feels like one of the last hurrahs of the 1970s.
At least the original film had a balls out ending. Fox is remaking the movie, with Frank E. Flowers (this cannot be a real name), director of the widely despised Haven (I skipped it) in charge. Flowers is writing as well as directing the remake, which he thinks will be relevant today: "The political climate and the psyche of the country make it an exciting time to tell that story," Flowers told Daily Variety. "When you are at war, kids are forced to make decisions normally reserved for adults, like fighting for your country and standing up for what you believe in."
See, I actually liked that the kids were not facing a war in the original because it made the tradition versus modernization element that much starker. There’s something touching about how they adhere to this old institution which, in the post-Vietnam years, felt more than a little outmoded. Will Flowers even keep the original concept, of the school being bulldozed, or will he try to jazz it up with some Iraq War material?
I was sitting in a room with Timothy Hutton at The Last Mimzy press day and thinking about a remake of Taps, but thought it wouldn’t work without young actors as powerful as the original managed to find. And that was before Virginia Tech; I’m shocked that Fox would touch a movie about armed teenage rebellion in this school shooting world of ours (more power to them for it, but I doubt they’ll keep the original ending). Unless they get a Joseph Gordon-Levitt type, I can’t imagine this film will be of any value at all. Thankfully the excellent original remains available on DVD. Buy it.