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Red Dawn

2012 | 93 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Red Dawn


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Theatrical release date

 21 November, 2012
 15 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Red Dawn Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 21, 2012

The story about the creation and release predicament behind the “Red Dawn” remake is actually quite interesting. Originally shot in 2009, the picture hit severe financial turbulence when original studio MGM teetered on bankruptcy, a dilemma that also threatened the stability of the James Bond and “The Hobbit” franchises. “Red Dawn” was made to wait while the pennies were counted and sorted, eventually sold off to a smaller distributor altogether. And then questions were raised about its invading Chinese villains. Sensing a dent in its international box office potential, the producers hastily changed the baddies to North Koreans, requiring extensive dubbing, cosmetic CGI, and a rethinking of military motivation. After a three-year wait, countless abandoned release dates, and teases of intriguing behind-the-scenes turmoil, “Red Dawn” is finally here. And now having viewed the final product, I hope the ghost of Patrick Swayze forever haunts the producers for their creative cluelessness and unapologetic mangling of a once wildly entertaining war film premise.

Somewhere in Washington State, a quiet town is working through the routines of daily life. High school quarterback Matt (Josh Peck) is fiercely protective of girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), while Marine brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth) has returned from duty, trying to find his balance away from a Middle East war zone, finding comfort in romantic advances from Toni (Adrianne Palicki). Waking up to the sound of gunfire and a sky filled with paratroopers, Matt and Jed find themselves staring down an invading army from North Korea, out to topple America. Retreating into the woods with teens Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Daryl (Connor Cruise), and a few other frightened kids, the gang watches the enemy destroy their hometown and kill most of their parents. Vowing to defend their tattered country, the teens form a resistance unit called the Wolverines and mastermind a plan of revenge, hoping to thwart all takeover efforts from Captain Lo (Will Yun Lee).

The official movie of basic cable, 1984’s “Red Dawn” isn’t a perfect film, but its tale of rural survival and teen rebellion was gifted an extraordinary fingerprint by writer/director John Milius, who injected the picture with a raw cinematic spirit and political awareness (working as commentary and satire), masterfully preying on Cold War fears of the era. It was entertainment, but remained severe in its depiction of occupied America, with mass death, starvation, and sacrifice helping to dial down the occasional ridiculousness of the plot and the limitations of a few of its younger cast members (including Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Grey). Its primal war cry was credible, sold with passion and rage, with star Swayze a one-man army of endearingly emphatic acting, making the audience believe in the might of a few Colorado juveniles and their Boy Scout plan to disrupt World War III.

The new “Red Dawn” has been stripped of its authenticity and gut-twisting horror, reimagined as a theme park stunt show for the thin-ice sensibilities of a post-9/11 world. It’s an action movie that doesn’t particularly care for plot and has no time for characterization, using the “Red Dawn” brand name to vaguely sketch out a conflict with a country that can’t even feed its own people. Not that North Korea should be simply brushed off as a global hangnail, but the screenplay by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore appears engineered to provide a large-scale menace, with occupying forces acting as a puzzle piece in a worldwide effort to eliminate America for good. Pasting North Korea over China is a strange trade-off, with the opening of the film sweating to sell the plausibility of the invasion without really understanding the mechanics of such an endeavor. However, taking time to work out the military math of “Red Dawn” is a mistake, as all helmer Dan Bradley wants to do is blow things up real good, y’all.

A working stuntman making his directorial debut, Bradley doesn’t encourage screen intensity, he demands it. Filmed with copious amounts of shaky-cam, “Red Dawn” attempts to create a blitzkrieg of action, following the Wolverines as they implement their plan of revenge. The details of such an undertaking are sketchy at best, but warfare particulars are for jerks. Bradley just wants to destroy tanks, buildings, and city blocks, using the teen guerrillas as action figures as they dodge bullets, detonate explosives, and superhumanly leap from great heights without breaking their legs. Perhaps these Wolverines have been reinforced with adamantium. Milius went for the ravages for war, the true price of survival; Bradley celebrates death and payback, turning the picture into a series of jingoistic cheap thrills without any bloodshed, keeping the PG-13 enterprise comfortably candied to suspend its true gravity.

And never fear, dear reader. If the North Koreans do manage to take possession of America, feel safe in the knowledge that all Subway restaurants will remain open for business. Even the Wolverines get hungry for a six-inch meatball marinara.

While Bradley labors to maintain the furor of the piece, any sense of town woe is lost, with basic geography and spatial relationships barely tended to, losing a greater appreciation of the takeover. A time span is never established, confusing the true commitment of the cause. A subplot highlighting a trio of Marines from “Free America” hoping to meet the Wolverines is undercooked, finding the kids immediately teaming up with the professionals without any sort of introductory period (almost all connective tissue has been snipped out of this 85-minute long movie). There’s also a question of acting, or lack thereof from the likes of Hutcherson, Cruise, and Lucas, while Peck is abysmal as the spastic, slack-jawed Matt, going way over the top to covey the character’s emotional instability. The guy nearly slips into seizures the harder he tries to communicate emotional pain. Hemsworth is no Swayze, but his Jed is more of a militaristic machine, imparting his steely battlefield wisdom and knowledge of guns to the greasy kids in his makeshift squad. He does what he can with the Crayola writing.

“Red Dawn” ends with some literal flag-waving and a set-up for a sequel, possibly released right about now if all went to plan three years ago. Instead we’re left with a bit of a cliffhanger for a film that hasn’t earned a second chapter. It’s certainly a rah-rah viewing experience playing to the essential drive of patriotism and home defense, but there isn’t a reason why “Red Dawn” couldn’t be a complex, challenging effort that emphasizes the harsh price of war. Handling the material as plasticized escapism robs the movie of terror and misses the intent of the original picture. It seems ludicrous to brand the 1984 feature as a classic, but it’s practically up there with “Saving Private Ryan” compared to the video game interests of this dopey, poorly realized remake.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Isabel Lucas, Josh Peck
Director: Dan Bradley (I)

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Red Dawn, Forum Discussions

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Red Dawn Reboot 161 Apr 11, 2013
Red Dawn More Casting... 20 Aug 11, 2009

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