It’s no secret that the Wolverine battle cry was muffled seemingly indefinitely when MGM Studios took a financial blow, crippling the “Red Dawn” remake’s theatrical release. The relatively unknown actors (or at least they were at the time) moved on to better things, and thank heavens we got to see Chris Hemsworth in “Marvel’s The Avengers” and “The Cabin in the Woods” before this eyesore of a masturbatory right-wing fantasy could make a noticeable dent in his career. In 2011, FilmDistrict picked up the distribution rights and hastily digital-swapped Chinese emblems for those of North Korea to keep “Red Dawn” in China’s good box office graces. What they failed to realize was that it doesn’t matter whether the villain in this movie is China or North Korea or Wonderland—this is not the generation for a second “Red Dawn.”
In first-time director Dan Bradley’s “Red Dawn,” Ex-Marine Jed Eckhert (Hemsworth) returns to Spokane, Washington to spend some quality time with his dad, Chief of Police Tom Eckhert (Brett Cullen) and his younger brother Matt (Josh Peck). The lion’s share of the movie’s drama stems from Matt’s resentment towards Jed for abandoning them for six years after the death of their mother; Peck’s character is young, angst-ridden and not a team player (so helpfully illustrated during the obligatory high school football game scene). The morning after a mysterious city-wide blackout, the Eckhert boys wake up to find North Korean paratroopers invading in their neighborhood. Jed, Matt, Matt’s girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), childhood friend Toni Walsh (Adrianne Palicki) and a handful of their peers (Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise, Alyssa Diaz, Julian Alcaraz, Edwin Hodge) are forced to take refuge in the woods as their family and friends are corralled and put in re-education camps by the invading army. And, because this is America and “even the tiniest flea can drive a big dog crazy,” (cue eye roll) the youths train themselves in guerrilla warfare in a desperate effort to take back their families and homeland. They call their resistance group the Wolverines after their high school mascot. It’s stars and stripes all around.
More kids are added presumably for a higher body count, and it doesn’t look as though many characters of color will make it to the end.
But whereas the ’80s were seething with Cold War-induced paranoia, a paramilitary invasion on American soil isn’t a feasible concern today. And this flea vs. big dog analogy should really be the other way around given that the annual U.S. defense budget dwarfs North Korea’s military expenditure…by a lot. It’s out of place to see that when the North Koreans land in Spokane, everyone reacts with resignation as though it’s been a long time coming. And although both the original and remake are heavy-laden with American patriotism, this new version is a farce and a cover for 114 minutes of kiddie war porn. Let’s take a bunch of able-bodied teens and put them in life-or-death situations. It’ll be fun.
And as for anyone who hasn’t seen the original and doesn’t give a damn about story/character development, they may very well have fun, owing largely to high adrenaline shootouts masterminded by Bradley, whose experience as a stunt coordinator in the “Bourne” films and the “Spider-Man” trilogy come in handy. But then he fails to explain how the ragtag bunch manages to squirrel their way out of the numerous raids in hostile territory, or how ordinary high-schoolers under the tutelage of one ex-Marine have become master marksmen within a matter of days. Maybe it was all those hours of playing “Call of Duty?” I don’t think so.
While the original “Red Dawn” made an earnest attempt (because let’s be real with ourselves, it was by no means a cinematic triumph) at an honest war film that addresses the brutal consequences of attrition warfare, and even took a stab at examining the “other side” of the war; the remake gives no pause for its characters to mourn their loved ones or even come to terms with the fact that they are also killing actual human beings. That coupled with the absurdity of the script’s logic (or lack thereof) won’t be enough for an intelligent audience to bite, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s superior acting skills are wasted on the poorly-written Lt. Colonel Andrew Tanner.
The “Red Dawn” reboot is just Hollywood’s reaction to the boom of “The Hunger Games” and the recent Australian film adaptation of “Tomorrow, When the War Began,” a ’90s teen book series by John Marsden that deals with young people in a similar foreign incursion plot. It makes the 2011 alien invasion flick “Battle: Los Angeles” look like an American masterpiece. I’ll take Patrick Swayze staggering through a snowy shootout in Calumet over this any day.