Mark Reviews Movies

Red Dawn (2012)

RED DAWN (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dan Bradley

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Edwin Hodge, Alyssa Diaz, Will Yun Lee, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Brett Cullen

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 11/21/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 21, 2012

Red Dawn is a leaner movie than the 1984 original, with a tighter focus and less bloat, yet as the tale of a ragtag group of teenagers and young adults fighting an invading foreign force progresses, its repetition grows stale. There are moments we wish the screenplay by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore allowed the material more room to breathe, but then again, memories of the cheesy melodrama the original movie offered when it let its characters do something other than fight a Soviet occupation give us second thoughts about that notion.

It's really a no-win scenario for this remake (already infamous for its delays in production after deciding to change the invading country from China to North Korea because, well, China has over 40 times the people of North Korea, which, by the numbers, is more potential tickets to be sold worldwide and a far less plausible setup). The premise, just as before, is provoking; the throughline, a warped coming-of-age story, again undermines situation and vice versa. The execution of the central concept is too much a fantastical adventure story to honestly explore the ramifications of its scenario while still managing to inject enough moments of senseless violence to really achieve a genuine sensation of adventure. It's simply a strange combination, one with which neither version is able to come to terms.

Set in a sleepy suburb of Spokane, Washington, the story opens—after a frantic bit of archival footage of world leaders and news reports edited together with conspiratorial gusto—with the men of the Eckert family. Elder son Jed (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave from Iraq, while younger son Matt (Josh Peck) is the starting quarterback for the high school football team. Their father (Brett Cullen) works for the local police department, completing a kind of all-American cliché.

One morning, the Eckert's house begins to rumble, and upon venturing outside, Jed and Matt are confronted with a swarm of planes flying overhead with paratroopers landing all around their neighborhood. The initial invasion sequence here is quite effective, both in terms of cheap thrills (lots of explosions, a car chase, and a few significant crashes, including a paratrooper with poor aim for landing) and narrative efficiency. The North Korean army captures the town, the Eckert boys and some their friends and neighbors escape, and a captain (Will Yun Lee) in the occupying force silently vows to make the kids pay for their resistance.

They flee to the woods, where, after stocking up on weapons in the Eckert's cabin, Jed teaches the rest how to fight, shoot guns, and strategize guerilla tactics. He puts it plainly: When he was overseas, he was with the good guys; in this situation, they will have to become the bad guys. The script does not elaborate on this idea, making us believe it simply it's here because it sounds good.

This is not a movie of any ideas that go beyond the concept of good and bad, anyway. This is a movie wherein the kids, some of whom—like the technology wizard Robert (Josh Hutcherson) who becomes an explosive expert—have never fired a gun before, manage to become expert soldiers over the course of a single montage. This is a movie that presents tough moral choices in the heat of battle, such as when Daryl (Connor Cruise) watches helplessly as his father (Michael Beach) sits on stage that they are about to detonate, but finds quick, easy, and painless ways around them. In the aforementioned instance, the whole plan goes wrong when Matt stages an impromptu rescue of his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas). Jed, meanwhile, is too busy trying to save the United States to consider any romantic possibilities with Erica's older sister Toni (Adrianne Palicki), and when he does, it's naturally interrupted by an assault.

The movie simply doesn't spend enough time with these characters for their personal dramas to have any real impact, and the plot hastily falls into a routine—an attack followed by a short respite of congenial bonding or interpersonal conflict and repeat. Palicki and especially Hemsworth stand out from the crowd, while the rest of the cast, including a small unit of Marines led by a colonel played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, has too little to do to make much of an impression (Peck is the exception in a negative way).

The movie starts surprisingly strong and progressively grows more ridiculous (The salvation of the United States depends on obtaining a device that is really nothing more than radio for some unstated and inexplicable reason) and numbing (By the big climax, a raid on the North Korean army headquarters, Dan Bradley's direction of the action sequences has turned to chaos), and the final lack of any clear resolution is infuriating. Red Dawn is a valiant effort to update and improve upon a problematic movie that winds up matching the original in terms of success—or, better, the lack thereof.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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