Movie review: 'Red Dawn' is a dismal remake
"Red Dawn" (D)
Just what we need for the Thanksgiving holiday: another pointless remake, and appropriately enough, "Red Dawn" is a turkey. Hold the stuffing. It’s already loaded with byproducts.
You know, it’s one thing to remake a good movie. It's quite another to Xerox a film that was a gobbler the first time around. At least the 1984 version featured a decent cast, including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton and Jennifer Grey. The remake features Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") and castaways from the Island of Misfit Thespians.
For a little background, the remake has been sitting on the shelf for awhile as its studio, MGM, dealt with some financial issues. Too bad the film didn’t stay in mothballs. Rumor has it that the bad guys in this version were initially Chinese, but not wanting to alienate such a large market, the filmmakers decided to change the villains to North Koreans complete with CGI alterations. Easy target as the Kim Jong-un Fan Club has few members. So, repeat after me, the North Koreans are coming! The North Koreans are coming! Strikes fear into your heart, doesn’t it?
In the original, a group of plucky teenagers fights to save the United States from the invading communists from Russia. In the remake, opening today, a group of plucky teenagers fights to save the United States from the invading communists from North Korea. Interchangeable commies. Hey, the only good Red is a dead Red, right? The original struck a chord during the Cold War and, besides, who doesn’t want to root for plucky teenage underdogs? The remake may strike a chord, too, with its jingoistic hokum as the film wears the American flag on its sleeve, its pant leg and its boxer shorts. That the movie is preposterous is almost beside the point. As the movie’s tagline says, "Welcome to the home of the brave." And the braindead.
The film opens with news footage featuring actual politicians providing a Cliff Notes version of global politics where North Korea is painted as the bogeyman. Hey, its leader is insane so an invasion is possible, right? And the invasion could be successful, right? Paratroopers land in Spokane and our only defense is a group of plucky teenagers? Don’t ask, don’t smell.
We then get introduced to our plucky teenagers. There’s Matt Eckert (Josh Peck), who plays quarterback for his high school football team, the Wolverines. He thinks he can do it all by himself. Think he’ll learn the value of teamwork by film’s end? Then there’s Jed Eckert (Hemsworth), Matt’s older brother who just happens to be a Marine. Matt and Jed have issues. Think they’ll get resolved by film’s end? We also have Matt’s girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), who plays the stereotypical cheerleader, and Robert (Josh Hutcherson), who plays the stereotypical best friend. To boost its demographic reach, the film includes a black teen and two Hispanic teens. At the start of the invasion, the teens number around 12 – it’s the Dirty Acne Dozen - but their numbers sadly decrease during the course of the film. Can you predict which ones will die? Will you care?
Anyway, Jed takes time out from the bloodshed to train the teens in warfare and transform them into a crack guerrilla fighting unit. Sure, that’s possible.
The remainder of the film shows the plucky teenagers raising all kinds of heck with the North Koreans: shooting them, blowing them up, making them listen to Justin Bieber. As with a Michael Bay film, pay no attention to the plot, just watch the explosions.
And definitely don’t listen to the dialogue. If the script’s prose were any more purple, it would be an eggplant. "Even the tiniest flea can drive a big dog crazy," says Jed, who gets to utter most of the inane phrases. Later on, he proclaims, "We inherited our freedom. Now, it’s time to fight for it!" All that’s missing from these scenes is a playing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
For some added drama, Matt wants to rescue Erica from a North Korean prison. Think his actions will have consequences?
For the parents in the audience, the soundtrack adds a couple Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. Too bad it didn’t include "Who'll Stop the Rain."
In between the gunfire and explosions, Jed finds time to rekindle a relationship with Toni (Adrianne Palicki). Why? Let us count the ways: to add another love interest for the female viewers who get dragged to this slop by their boyfriends, to present Jed's softer side so we care about him more and to pad the film’s length.
This abomination was directed by first-timer Dan Bradley, a former stuntman, and penned by first-timer Jeremy Passmore and Carl Ellsworth. Yes, it’s amateur hour and a half with no cliché left unused. Only the well-shot action scenes keep "Red Dawn" from being labeled cinematic manure.
The acting certainly doesn’t help. Hemsworth is obviously slumming while Peck smiles and shouts a lot. Turnips demonstrate more emotion. Lucas and Palicki, meanwhile, get little to do except kiss their boyfriends, fire machine guns and blow things up. But she’s always a woman to me.
Later in the film, the plucky teenagers steal a very important device from the North Koreans… and they never use it. Why? Well, either the filmmakers are idiots or they’re planning a sequel. Or both. Maybe in the sequel, the plucky teenagers will vanquish the North Koreans and turn their attention to the nation that poses the real global threat to freedom, mom and apple pie: Liechtenstein. I can see the tagline now: "Let’s lick Liechtenstein."
"Red Dawn" is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language.