The long delayed and wholly unnecessary remake of the 1980s Cold War action drama for teens Red Dawn will probably be exactly what audiences expect. It’s dumb as a box of hammers, unevenly acted, never boring, conservative action pap with a latent string of xenophobia that’s been toned down to nothing beyond blanket caricature. It’s like a movie made in a time capsule is emerging from the original time capsule it was housed within. By those standards, it’s definitely not great, but still not as awful as it could have easily been.
After the North Korean army storms the banks of sleepy Spokane, Washington to begin their occupation of the land of the free and home of the brave, a band of teenagers rise up to avenge their fallen and captured friends while they also work out their teenage shit. The eldest of the bunch – a former marine stationed in Iraq (Chris Hemsworth) – becomes their leader after watching his police detective father get murdered in front of him, despite constantly finding himself at odds with his petulant younger brother (Josh Peck) who only cares about saving his girlfriend from an internment camp.
The multiple writers of the script and first time director/long time stunt coordinator Dan Bradley deserve some credit for realizing early on that modern audiences that would go to see this kind of film simply wouldn’t understand the original film’s outdated Cold War dynamic. It starts with the action extremely early once the basic interactions of the characters are established and it doesn’t look back or attempt to dwell on the politics at play. The film’s thankfully too lunkheaded to do any real heavy lifting or moralizing until the last five minutes, which the original actually extended to a full twenty agonizing minutes. So that’s a definite improvement.
The only real politicizing that happens here comes at the expense of the North Koreans, who might as well just be any army on the face of the planet given that all the audience knows about their plans comes from the creatively re-edited opening titles made up from archival footage and speeches. It’s also strangely obvious that the finished film was the result of reshoots that changed the invading hordes from Chinese troops to North Koreans, and it oddly makes things even more unintentionally racist as a result. But don’t worry fans of the original because the Russians do return to inexplicably help the North Koreans despite the two countries having a history of not getting along. Apparently, the Russians in a part of the film we never see have taken over “the entire Eastern seaboard”, but the North Koreans still only have Spokane and Seattle, making it that much more believable that a band of snot nosed high schoolers could outsmart them.
The film sets up the kids’ newfound tactical abilities in a single montage and never develops them again in an effort to get straight to the action, which is what Bradley does best. The car chase that opens the film where our leads try to meet up with their father amid troops parachuting in and jets crashing into houses is admittedly stunning and exciting, but things never reach that giddy level again with a lot of the violence blunted to ensure a family friendly PG-13 rating that just discredits the whole realistic nature of the combat trying to be conveyed. Wait, why am I talking about realism in a remake of Red Dawn? Sorry, guys. That’s the last time that will happen.
In the acting department, Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson – playing the nerdy AV club member of the pack of junior terrorists known as the Wolverines – are the only two who seem to understand what movie is being made. Hemsworth hems and haws like a macho badass well, and Hutcherson has a blast bringing the only levity to the material and revelling in his chance to be the guy to re-enact the most famous line reading from the original. Everyone else is a mixed bag.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a great sport in his late film appearance as a military man out of retirement. The two female leads and love interests for the brothers (Adrianne Palicki and Isabel Lucas) never do anything to set themselves apart or embarrass themselves, making themselves forgotten about until they have actual lines of dialogue. The real problem here, however, is Peck who simply sucks the life out of the film. His performance isn’t all that great, he already looks too old for his role in comparison to everyone else, and the character is an irredeemable little shit the audience probably wishes would get killed off instantly.
Red Dawn has probably been knocked down so much before its release and over several years that curiosity has probably faded and the film will probably be greeted with a large amount of apathy despite two newly minted stars in prominent roles. The teens who do end up seeing it will get exactly what their parents paid for in the early 1980s: a piece of utterly disposable action garbage that they’ll somehow find some degree of nostalgia for even thought it was never a massive hit and it was only good for about three or four scenes across the entire running time.