A completely irrelevant re-make, Red Dawn delivers good action wrapped up in a critically stalled story with at least one of the worst performances of the year.
The set up to this movie is pretty simple. Jed Eckert (Christopher Hemsworth) returns to his pacific northwestern home town on leave from the Marines to visit his brother Matt (Josh Peck) and his father (Brett Cullen) just in time for the North Koreans to invade after knocking out the United States’s power with a magic EMP device. Their town is overrun and Jed and Matt escape to their family’s cabin in the woods with friends Robert (Josh Hutcherson) and Daryl (Connor Cruise) where they mount a counter insurgency against the invaders after their father is shot and killed by Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee). The group picks up some other survivors including Toni (Adrianne Palicki) who has a crush on Jed and brother and sister Danny (Edwin Hodge) and Julie (Alyssa Diaz) and call themselves the Wolverines after their high school’s football team. The Wolverines run a campaign to disrupt and rescue and eventually gain the help of a three man group of Marines led by Tanner (Jeffery Dean Morgan) who help them strike harder at the North Koreans but not before Matt puts everyone at risk trying to rescue his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas).
There is an awful lot wrong with Red Dawn. I don’t normally like to compare remakes to the source material but the original Red Dawn was a film very indicative of its time and place and taking it out of that element and that political climate and arbitrarily changing the invading nation destroys the core premise of the movie and its place in history. The original was a response to fear of the cold war and worked in that context. Tensions were pretty high between the US and the USSR at the time and fear of World War III, invasion scenarios and nuclear war was real and prevalent. Red Dawn was almost a pressure valve for the time and functioned to let people break the tension of what was for them a real concern. Or at least it was Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze shooting Russians with machine guns and that was cathartic enough for audiences at the time. The threat was credible enough to support the film (even though the Russians had help from other communist nations) and while it wasn’t especially realistic it was at least in the ball park.
The remake ignores political realities for a shoe horned premise with a re-branded enemy executing a ridiculous plan. This is best summed up when a character, upon learning that it is the North Koreans says ‘North Korea? That makes no sense.’ That is the whole line, cut to another scene. And he’s right, it makes no sense, not even when you McGuffin it up with an EMP device that kills all of the US’s electricity but leaves theirs intact through the use of magical suitcase laptops that are carried by each zone’s central leadership. The fact is that North Korea could not invade and occupy the United States. Sure, the movie mentions that they have help but the premise is still stretched. That the original invading army was the Chinese who were then palette swapped out for a less offensive attacking nation really does little for credibility or artistic integrity of the project and shows way more racial insensitivity in trying to be less offensive. The notion that the Chinese and North Koreans are basically the same thing is pretty offensive and making the change because it made one group mad does nothing to couch the original complaint.
It would be one thing if the macro issues of the story and general existance of the movie were the only roadblocks but on a smaller scale there are several other problems that really hamper this movie. From tiny things like a character’s cell phone still having power three weeks after the EMP attack to larger issues of some terrible performances, the movie is not at all precise and is generally poorly made on that level. Dialogue is generally awful and dramatic scenes meant to tug the heart strings tend to illict snickers or laughter. There is a prevailing silliness that infests the movie that is really hard to move past no matter how dramatic it gets or how high the stakes are.
I’ve mentioned the performances several times and these are a decidedly mixed bag. Jeffery Dean Morgan, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth elevate the scenes they are in and all three turn in solid performances. The good work they do, however, is largely undermined by two other performances that are so bad that I question that there was any sort of checks and balances system of any kind on this picture. I know the film sat on the shelf for over a year before it was released and I have to wonder if that was not just from Josh Peck’s performance making studio decision makers kill themselves. I don’t know how he was on Drake and Josh but according to his performance in Red Dawn, Peck’s acting tool box is pretty much empty except for squinting his eyes while opening and closing his mouth. That is pretty much all he does and it is so distracting that it jars the viewer right out of the movie. There might have been worse performances this year but if there are, I have not seen them. Matt Gerald as the Marine Hodges is enormously irritating as well but that was less his performance and more that his character was one of the most annoying I have ever seen and was obviously written to make the audience laugh…I just don’t think they meant for the audience to laugh AT him.
Now here, after pissing all over the movie for 900 words, comes the caveat that the action scenes in the movie are very well shot and exciting. This isn’t that surprising in that first time director Dan Bradley has been stunt coordinator on 117 films. He knows action and how to sell it and he does that here. Any time guns are firing and people are running, jumping and fighting the movie is exciting and engaging. If the premise weren’t hackneyed and had the movie not sucked like a black hole any time there was no violence then this would have been a great movie. If you can just watch the action here you will have a great time.
Conclusion [6 out of 10]
I went to see this with the Gentlemen Radio’s Jeff and he said it best when he said the movie gets a 9 for action and a 3 for everything else. I agree with this wholeheartedly. The action makes the movie worth watching on some level but that level is probably a red box rental where you can fast forward through anything not involving automatic weapons or fisticuffs. There is an audience that will appreciate the patriotic stand up and fight aspects of the movie but the original did that much better and it made a lot more sense. Check this out as a rental or the cheap seats if you can’t wait that long and you will get your money’s worth.