Red Dawn: Film Review

2012-39 BKLOT Michigan Red Dawn H

From left: Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth in "Red Dawn," opening Nov. 21, which filmed in Detroit, Pontiac and Royal Oak, Mich.

An already silly premise is given a ham-fisted treatment in this ill-advised remake of John Milius' 1984 hit action film.

Remake of John Milius' 1984 cult favorite about a ragtag group of teen guerrillas fighting foreign invaders.

The recent failure of North Korea to even launch a missile successfully lends a comic air of preposterousness to the already silly premise of Red Dawn, the long-delayed remake of John Milius’ fondly remembered 1984 action film. Dan Bradley’s reboot originally featured the Chinese as the villains, but hey, China is a lucrative film market while North Korea barely can keep its lights on, hence the post-production switch. In any case, this version is unlikely to strike a similar chord with young audiences while severely disappointing older fans of the original. It also contains far less resonance today than during the Cold War, with domestic problems seeming far more a threat than foreign invasion.  

The premise once again concerns a stalwart group of teenagers who band together into a ragtag guerrilla army opposing the nasty North Koreans who suddenly besiege their hometown of Spokane, Washington. Unintentionally echoing Mitt Romney’s campaign pronouncement that Russia is our biggest international threat, the film drops hints that they are also part of the conspiracy.

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The opening credits are accompanied by a montage of news clips featuring the likes of Obama, Biden and Hillary Clinton warning about the threat of cyber-terrorism. It turns out that they were right, as it’s eventually explained that this vicious sneak attack was precipitated by a total shutdown of our computer grids.

The filmmakers don’t waste any time, beginning the action a mere fifteen minutes in with frightening scenes of tanks and paratroopers led by the bloodthirsty Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee) suddenly occupying the placid town.

Dubbing themselves the “Wolverines” in honor of their high school football team, the town’s teens, raised on a steady diet of war-themed videogames, quickly take up arms to fight the invaders. Led by recently returned Iraq War vet Jed (Chris Hemsworth, who filmed this before hitting the big time as Thor), they include star quarterback and Jed’s kid brother Matt (Josh Peck); Toni (Adrianne Palicki), who carries a torch for Jed; tech geek Robert (Josh Hutcherson); head cheerleader Erica (Isabel Lucas); and Daryl (Connor Cruise), the mayor’s son. They’re eventually joined by a trio of retired Marines led by a gung-ho type (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who utters such macho pronouncements as “It’s a good day to die, gentlemen.” That’s but one example of the generally risible dialogue, which includes Jed’s observation that “Even the tiniest flea can drive a big dog crazy.”

Director Bradley is a former stunt coordinator, which accounts for the well-staged action sequences that take up the bulk of the film’s relatively brief 93-minute running time. Unfortunately, DP Mitchell Amundsen, hewing to the now standard formula, uses shaky, hand-held cameras to photograph much of the proceedings, resulting in near incoherent visuals that quickly induce monotony.

Other than Hemsworth, who infuses his character with a credible gravitas, the young performers are wholly unconvincing in their roles, with Palicki and Lucas somehow managing to look perfectly made-up and beautiful even while engaging in the down and dirty action. Morgan provides his usual strong screen presence, and Korean-American actor Lee, once dubbed one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” makes for a suitably hissable villain.

Production company: Contrafilm

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Edwin Hodge, Alyssa Diaz, Julian Alcarez, Will Yun Lee, Brett Cullen, Michael Beach, Fernando Funan Chien

Director: Dan Bradley

Screenwriters: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore

Producers: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson

Executive producers: Kevin Halloran, Vincent Newman

Director of photography: Mitchell Amundsen

Production designer: Dominic Watkins

Costume designer: Catherine George

Rated PG-13, 93 min