When the original “Red Dawn” came out in 1984, the threat of a Soviet invasion was at least plausible. The teen-powered hit exploited that fear with an adventure bringing World War III to American soil.
Flash forward to 2012, when a terrorist with a backpack has a more realistic chance of inflicting Stateside damage than a foreign power’s army.
Regardless, the new and not-very improved “Red Dawn” has dawned, complete with a red menace du jour: North Korea.
Never mind that the film was shot with China as the enemy. When Chinese media objected to the demonization of their country (and distributors realized they were offending a burgeoning lucrative market), images of flags and the like were digitally altered, triggering massive delays in post-production. The film, shot in 2009, had already been languishing on the shelf because its studio, MGM, filed for bankruptcy.
Compared to the original, not much else is radically different in this nonsensical tale of Spokane, Wash., youths banding together to thwart an occupying army.
“Even the tiniest fleas can drive a big dog crazy,” explains Jed (Chris Hemsworth, before he became “Thor”). The Iraq war veteran has returned home in time to watch younger brother Matt (Josh Peck) hot dog it as quarterback of the high school Wolverines. But Matt’s self-absorbed attitude doesn’t sit well with the soldier, especially when unwanted visitors parachute into the town and open fire.
Jed, Matt and a handful of friends (a pre-“Hunger Games” Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise, Adrianne Palicki) hightail it to the mountains. There they transform into the region’s most infamous freedom fighters, ambushing and sabotaging the occupying army.
“Red Dawn” begins with ominous newsreel footage blabbing about “panic in European markets” and North Korea reacting “like a spoiled child.” Yet the movie jumps from point A to point Z with little explanation. Suddenly, enemy forces secure not just the Pacific Northwest but the entire United States with little evidence of organized resistance. Neat trick how the 48th most populous country takes out the third in one weekend. Perhaps they did it digitally.
The picture is directed by renowned stunt coordinator Dan Bradley. If viewers can look past the migraine-inducing camera work, they’ll be treated to a few slick action scenes. In the best, the Wolverines raid an enemy-controlled police station, offering a well-paced balance of heist and showdown.
Bradley also benefits from some key performances. Hemsworth is dependable in the Patrick Swayze role. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Watchmen”) adds seasoned bravado as a rogue colonel who later joins the Wolverines. The rest of the model-worthy cast barely registers, particularly former Nickelodeon star Peck, who looks like a mini Ryan Gosling and talks like Michael Corleone nursing a broken jaw.
It’s tempting to chide “Red Dawn” for its rampant jingoism. The flick emphatically caters to the militia groups and secessionists who’ve installed really cool home theater systems in their bunkers. (There’s a key line in the movie about Montana and Texas already winning back their freedom.)
But, realistically, it’s less of a Red State fantasy than it is a lazy indictment of Hollywood. Here’s a remake that has no bearing on the current state of the world: politically, militarily or geographically. The studio is only looking at it monetarily. It was a hit 28 years ago, so it must be again, right?
Right? Anybody? Wolverines?
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language.