Silver Screen: Red Dawn *
Lincoln inspires genuine patriotism. It’s a reminder of that untold men and women sacrificed to afford us the luxuries we enjoy, that the strength of the ideals the country was founded upon can overcome their imperfect applications, and that there were people who set such strong, noble examples that attempting to live up to them is a worthy purpose for living.
A far more pernicious patriotism is the crux of the remake of Red Dawn, a rickety, ill-conceived and mostly thrill-free action flick that waters down its own jingoistic impetus until it’s little more than thin, weak team spirit.
The Chinese are coming! Spokane, Washington is overrun by an old-fashioned aerial assault complete with bombers dropping payloads and hundreds of Commie invaders parachuting down to our formerly free soil. They destabilize the power grid, take over the West Coast, set up reeducation camps, and seek to browbeat the surprisingly docile citizenry into following a new world order.
Except it’s not the Chinese, it’s the North Koreans. It was the Chinese, back in 2009 when this remake was originally filmed, but when the rights to the movie were eventually picked up by a Chinese-owned distributor, the whole thing was computer retouched and partly reshot to make our foreign invaders come not from the mighty, massive China but a tiny, impoverished dictatorship that’s more politically convenient to kick around. That’s only one of the many logical inconsistencies marring Red Dawn, which would still be a choppy, poorly realized action movie even if it did make a damn bit of sense.
When the North Koreans show up, with vague hints of help from the Russians, they seize the town within hours. A motley collection of teenagers is able to escape during the initial takeover and regroups at a cabin in the woods. They’re led by Jed (Chris Hemsworth), a veteran with combat experience in Iraq, and his hotheaded younger brother Matt (Josh Peck), the school’s star quarterback. Under the moniker of the school mascot, the Wolverines, they form an American insurgency that uses guerilla tactics to cripple the invaders’ leadership and unite the town in rebellion.
The 1984 version of Red Dawn was a teen-fantasy shoot-‘em-up that traded on soon-to-be-outdated Cold War fears. As genuine as the John Milius-scripted original may have been in regards to love of guns and loathing of Commies, it was not without tinges of irony. You won’t find any irony or self-awareness in this stiff, bland reimagining, even though history has not been kind to its simplistic message. The notion of a country notorious for invading other lands itself being invaded is potentially interesting, but this Red Dawn is too dumb and straightforward for that. Nobody even cracks the tiniest of smiles when Jed explains that this fight is different: When he was in Iraq he was with the good guys, fighting to restore order, as opposed to these invading agents of chaos. The Wolverines have the strength to fight because this land is, to the North Koreans, just territory to be conquered, but to the Americans it is home. It’s a truly stunning lack of perspective and imagination to imply that the people we invade might not feel the same way.
When Red Dawn pushes a dubious political message, however, it’s mostly by default, or by accident. All first-time feature director Dan Bradley is really interested in is choreographing bloodless shootouts and cooking up pyrotechnic stunts. The film’s one compelling ten-minute stretch is a too-short invasion sequence and subsequent chase, but after that it’s little more than a series of awkwardly edited, poorly strung-together action scenes that makes fighting off an invading army look easy and fun. The kids slip in and out of town with minimal effort and enact elaborate revenge plots with almost no interference. The evil amusement park owner in Scooby Doo is less easily foiled by impetuous youngsters than the North Korean army, apparently. It’s dumb, dumb, dumb, and not a fun kind of dumb, either.
Not helping matters at all is that the movie’s ostensible protagonist, Matt, the only character with any sort of arc, is played by the worst young actor of the bunch. Since 2009 Hemsworth and supporting player Josh Hutcherson have justified themselves as leading men in major franchises The Avengers and The Hunger Games, respectively. Peck, meanwhile, is mush-mouthed, thick-lipped, and charisma-free, delivering his lines as if he just woke up and looking an awful lot like Madame Tussauds’s wax statue of Milo Ventimiglia if it was slowly melting in an overheated room. This is a failure at every level.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.