'Red Dawn': Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson Can't Save This Bloody Awful Remake (MOVIE REVIEW)
There aren’t many occasions when I think a movie literally shouldn’t have ever been made, but the release – or more specifically, the end result – of Red Dawn marks an important one.
No matter what one thinks of remakes, even some of the most egregiously offensive ones (Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street, possibly Robocop), none of them have been as irrelevant and quite frankly pointless as Dan Bradley’s reimagining of tail-end-of-the-Cold War-era action escapism as a preposterously ill-conceived Tea Party wish-fulfillment fantasy.
In fact, not even a never-dreamier Chris Hemsworth and a formidable, maturing Josh Hutcherson at the center of its ensemble cast rescues it from being precisely the sort of dead-studio detritus whose delay in being released was fully deserved by virtue of its quality rather than earned because of its distributor’s financial woes.
What do audiences wake up to in ‘Red Dawn’?
Hemsworth (The Avengers) plays Jed Eckert, a soldier home from Iraq who returns to his hometown of Spokane, Washington just as it befalls a strange and unexplained power outage. As his police chief father Tom (Brett Cullen) heads off to handle the problem, Jed attempts to reconnect with his little brother Matt (Josh Peck), who’s angry he took off for parts unknown after the death of their mother. But when the outage turns out to be a prelude to a full-scale invasion by North Korea, they flee the city with a handful of Matt’s high-school classmates in tow hoping to evade capture.
As Matt dreams of reconnecting with his imprisoned girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), Jed begins to train their ragtag group as a counter-insurgency team. But as Jed’s squad, nicknamed the Wolverines, begins to undermine the North Koreans’ occupation of Spokane, they’re forced to decide what’s more important – the personal attachments they’ve formed with friends and family, or the freedom of a country that’s being turned into a communist state.
When the original Red Dawn was released in 1984, the Cold War was beginning to come to an end, but the lingering fear of Communist occupation of USA by the Russians made that film a semi-relevant story to tell, not the least of which because the U.S.S.R. was still very much a monolithic and potentially dangerous superpower. In 2012 – or even 2009, when this film was initially shot – North Korea has no chance in hell in successfully invading the U.S., certainly not the way that their attack is depicted in the film.
According to the film, the North Koreans use a “new weapon” – an EMP device that kills electronic signals – which allows them to successfully send thousands of troops parachuting into Spokane, and one assumes, the rest of the United States. In the span of a few hours are able to detain and round up members of the community they seem to think are the most dangerous – such as Matt’s cheerleader girlfriend – but otherwise allow most citizens the freedom to roam the streets of Spokane with only occasional interruptions at checkpoints or military barricades.
As effective a leader as Hemsworth is both as a character and “commanding officer” of the film’s ensemble cast, he’s unfortunately adrift in a story that’s too absurd to be meaningful. He has two serious and almost touching exchanges with Peck as his brother that approach substantive, thoughtful emotional interaction, but they sort of float in and out of the film without any connection to the deeper ramifications of who he or the other characters are, or how those moments really drive the story into new or interesting directions.
As his brother Matt, meanwhile, Peck always seems a few inches away, emotionally speaking, from what a scene needs. Is he a true athlete with an individualistic streak, or a younger brother desperately trying to win his father’s, and brother’s approval? In one scene, his “selfishness” costs the life of another one of the Wolverines, and when he approaches that person’s companion, his mouth curls into an almost half-smile that feels completely impenetrable; it seems impossible that he’s indifferent to the loss, but there’s no palpable sense of guilt or apology, only a “you understand, right?” attitude that undermines our sympathy towards his choices.
Additionally, the film’s “this is our land” ethos is far too simplistic to play as anything other than right-wing talking points – fearmongering based on comical extrapolations of already unlikely scenarios. (I mean, seriously, why the hell would North Korea target Spokane, Washington for anything, much less an epicenter of their attack on the U.S.?) But oddly that’s what the film needed more of, not less, to be believable: if, say, the film opened with a literal nuclear holocaust, where the country was divided by huge losses of infrastructure and manpower, then it might actually make sense how the Koreans could have gotten a foothold as occupiers.
As it is, Red Dawn is at best the cinematic equivalent of a voting-day robocall to people who are susceptible to nailbiting, apocalyptic paranoia – even as a fantasy-actioner, it’s too cartoonish to embrace and too dangerous to indulge.