When MGM went bankrupt in 2010 they had two movies in production that they didn’t have the money to release. The first was Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, a brilliant, clever outrageously well done horror film with a great sci-fi twist. The other film was Dan Bradley’s of Red Dawn, and while it may have been produced by the same company as Cabin and also happens to have one of the same stars – Chris Hemsworth – that’s where the comparisons end. This action remake is an uninspired mess.
While the 1984 John Milius film had its place in time, a response to the never-ending Cold War paranoia that had Americans fearing the arrival of Soviet soldiers on their doorstep at any minute, even the central concept of the Bradley’s take doesn’t really work. Replacing Russian forces with the North Koreans (it was originally going to be the Chinese before they realized the potential box office hazard), the new version isn’t a reaction to cultural zeitgeist, and as a result not only has zero impact, but even a thread of xenophobia. The filmmakers do make some version of an effort to tie it to something real in the modern day--the opening credits consisting of real news footage about the growing danger of the totalitarian dictatorship--but it comes across as slap-dash. There’s no point in remaking a film unless you can improve upon the execution of an original idea and/or reform an old idea and make it apply to the now; Red Dawn doesn’t bother to do either.
The film has the structural integrity of a house after a category five tornado. The pacing is egregiously mishandled, which is more than noticeable when you’re making a movie about a bunch of high school students who become a team of fully trained guerilla fighters seemingly overnight (though of course there is the standard predictable training montage). Because the group, once again nicknamed The Wolverines, don’t get a legitimate mission to act on until the third act, most of the movie is spent watching characters just move from place to place trying to undermine the invading force’s operation. The whole thing is so out of whack that by the time the credits started to roll I said to myself, “Wait, that was it?” even though I was very happy with the opportunity to leave the theater.
I will throw Red Dawn some credit for its lead performances. Continuing his path to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Hemsworth gives a strong turn stepping into Patrick Swayze’s boots as Jed Eckert, the trained Marine who is tasked with organizing and militarizing his young platoon. He and Josh Peck, who play’s Jed’s younger brother Matt, have strong sibling chemistry, and Peck holds his own as well, particularly in scenes where he is conflicted in his loyalty to the Wolverines and his desperation to free his girlfriend (Isabel Lucas) from a prisoner camp. Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise play easily the most one-dimensional characters in the main cast, each one given a single conflict that they must overcome by the end of the runtime, but they do what they can.
Between Tea Party Republicans’ fear of a Communist uprising within the government and liberal concern about militaristic expansion and continuation of U.S. instigated conflict in the Middle East, there is plenty in modern politics that a movie ideologically similar to Red Dawn could take advantage of. Instead we've been handed one with zero ambition or things to say. The film’s end opens it up for the possibility of a sequel, but hopefully that’s something we’ll never have to sit through.
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