If you grew up during the 80s, especially if you were a guy, watching the original Red Dawn was a formative experience in your life. It taught a lot of lessons that were mandatory for that day and age. First, you learned that Russians and Cubans were communists. Second, you learned that communists are dirtbags. Finally, it was made perfectly clear that communists will always lose to freedom-loving Americans, regardless of what disadvantages the latter group may have working against it. Simple lessons, but they fit with the rather simple and bi-polar alignment of world powers that we grew up with. A re-make set in contemporary times and helmed by a first-time director did not bode well, but I went to see it anyway.
For those who had the misfortune to miss out on the last awesome decade of American culture, namely, the 80s, Red Dawn was the tale of a joint Soviet and Cuban invasion of the United States. This invasion involved the occupation of Calumet, Colorado. In response, a group of average teenagers (a couple of whom had been hunting a few times) molded themselves into a guerrilla strike force that made war on the communist hordes. It plays out way better than it sounds.
The new Red Dawn (PG 13) takes us to Spokane, Washington, where Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is back home after a stint in the Marines. His younger brother (Josh Peck of the horror known as Drake & Josh) and their friends wake up one morning to find themselves in the middle of an invasion by North Korea. Yeah, I know. North Korea. But the Russians are part of it, too, so it isn’t completely ridiculous. Hemsworth then sets about training all his buds in the military arts until they are ready to take on their oppressors. This sounds a lot like the original, and it would have been easy to make a film that, while not energized by Cold War paranoia and hostility, could have passed for decent.
It would have been easy, but people screw up easy jobs all the time.
Let’s see what worked.
Chris Hemsworth is a pretty good actor.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s examine the rest of the show. Josh Peck turned in one of the worst performances in my recent memory. Every single moment of his camera time was forced and artificial. When an actor’s acting really only serves to remind you that he’s just acting, that is a poor effort. The rest of the cast basically consisted of two categories: hot girls and cannon fodder, neither of which came off as all that talented because the director seemed hell-bent to get them off the screen as soon as possible to let Josh Peck emote some more.
Who was this director? His name is Dan Bradley. As mentioned above, this was his first time in the big chair, with his prior work being deals like 2nd unit stunt direction. This is actually important to understand why he failed so badly.
The original Red Dawn is easily written off as being just a teen fantasy shoot-em-up. That is not at all the case. There are several deeper themes, even beyond the obvious “how does war affect youth.” The original teen group must deal with widespread atrocities inflicted on their hometown, what are the consequences of betrayal, and what happens when you really can’t win. Even the commander of the Cuban forces (portrayed by Ron Neal) has a depth to his character that enhances the rest of the movie.
The re-make has stripped out all of these things. There are moments when it almost consciously veers away from dealing with them. All that’s left is one battle after another, and they aren’t particularly good battle scenes at that. It’s only a 90-minute movie, and it was abnormally long for what was delivered. Much of the run-time was provided by the characters getting themselves into trouble by doing very dumb things. This was annoying, and since it only served as the bridge to the next battle, contributed nothing other than a few more minutes of sitting in the theater.
Catholic themes or lessons? Um, no. Anything that might have passed for such was eliminated with the previously mentioned elements of actual depth. They do have a cheesy shpiel about protecting your homeland, which is good to hear, but that’s about it and hardly something unique to Catholicism.
The content was typical. Lots of stuff getting blowed up real good. There was some profanity that was of the mild sort, until the very end when somebody felt the need to throw in a gratuitous f-bomb to make sure they got the PG-13 rating. I didn’t pick up any blasphemy, though.
Overall, this movie was a shell of explosions surrounding a hollow core of nothing. I can handle mindless, but mindless and lifeless is just a waste of your time.
Half a tiara.
Review by Throwback