Remake has more boom, still lacks pop
By Michael O’Sullivan
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
There’s good news and bad news about “Red Dawn,” a remake of the 1984 action film about high school kids from the American heartland forced to become guerrilla warriors when their small town is invaded by foreign troops. I’m happy to report that the amped-up retread, which substitutes North Korean soldiers for the original Soviet bad guys -- and a steely Chris Hemsworth for a cheesy Patrick Swayze -- is a big improvement.
The bad news is: That’s not saying much.
Unlike some who hold dear the memory of the 1984 film, I watched the thing not all that long ago, when a collector’s-edition DVD came out in 2007. It hadn’t aged well, and in the shifting light of 21st-century geopolitics, the old film’s rabid anti-communism seemed slightly silly, as did the fake-looking gunplay and explosions. The world changes, and so do our standards for things that go boom.
The new “Red Dawn” starts off pretty scary, as the Pacific Northwest town where it’s set wakes up to find its spacious skies suddenly filled with menacing aircraft and paratroopers. The scenes that follow -- featuring internment camps and summary executions -- will be red meat for tea party patriots. Like the conservative documentary “2016: Obama’s America,” “Red Dawn” hints broadly that the United States has left itself open to attack and occupation through a combination of weak foreign policy and squandered military might.
That’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for some. Others will eat it up, along with all the speechifying about how freedom isn’t free.
Much of that speechifying, initially, comes from Hemsworth’s Jed, a brooding Marine who finds his home leave (and brooding time) rudely interrupted by the invasion. This unexpectedly leaves him in charge of his younger brother Matty (Josh Peck) and several of Matty’s teenage friends after they manage to slip through the clutches of the brutal North Korean prefect (Will Yun Lee) who has been assigned to suppress the locals.
Jed quickly recruits the kids to the cause of resistance, and the rest of the film is spent showing their training and tactics as they evolve into a crack squad of freedom fighters. It’s moderately good fun, even if it comes with a heaping helping of baloney on the side.
Why exactly has the enemy decided to occupy this particular sleepy backwater? It’s never terribly clear. There’s a suggestion that, strategically, there may be more going on here for the North Koreans than meets the eye, but the film never delivers on that promise.
The far-fetched nature of the military occupation is more than a little hard to overlook. And a mawkish subplot about the sibling rivalry between the disciplined Jed and his impulsive little brother -- neither of whom looks like he could possibly be related to the other -- feels trite and unsupported. It just adds mushiness to the story when what it needs is more snap.
“Red Dawn” briefly picks up when a cadre of retired soldiers (led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) joins the adolescent fighters, who have come to call themselves “Wolverines” after the mascot of the local high school’s football team.
Where the youngsters seem, at times, more interested in making out with each other than they are in making a difference, the older men bring a refreshing, get-’er-done attitude to the battle, reminding us of what’s at stake (or at least what’s supposed to be at stake). There’s a glibness and superficiality to the proceedings that never allows us to care very deeply about anything or anyone.
Ultimately, the problem with this “Red Dawn” is the same problem with the first one. Despite the more realistic battle scenes, nothing in it feels more fateful than a football game.
Contains obscenity, gunplay and violence.