November 23, 2012

Movie Review: Red Dawn (2012)

In 1984 writer/director John Milius followed up his epic Conan the Barbarian with a "what if" tale of an invasion of the US by a foreign army, Red Dawn. It is something that has never happened in the modern age. During the Cold War it was a real fear, it may not have been one talked about much, but it was a possibility. That movie saw the forces of Soviet Russia and Cuba invade America. Now, the movie had a healthy dose of cinematic bravado and was ultimately just an entertainment, but it had a certain believability about it. Now we have the remake, rejiggered for 2012 (well, 2009, when it was shot).

The new version, directed by longtime stunt coordinator Dan Bradley, lands dead on arrival. Granted, I cannot say I had all that high of expectations and even then they were not met. The movie takes the pulpy material of the original and rather than treat it as such (it can still be serious and retain an entertaining edge), they try to give it that A-movie sheen. It is an ill fit. This new Red Dawn reeks of studio interference and a creative team struggling to make it fit the modern world.

As I sat there and watched the tale of kids fighting back against an invasion impossibly staged by North Korea, I could not help but not buy any of it. I guess it should be known by now that it was originally China mounting the invasion, but after the film was finished it was realized that China is still profitable for American movies and they would be unlikely to welcome a film that painted them in a negative light. This being the case, some reshoots were done and some digital adjustments were made to flags and other markings.

Anyway, we are barely ten minutes in when the planes start flying overhead and paratroopers start landing. Our lead Wolverine is Jed (Chris Hemsworth), a Marine home on leave. He scoops up his hothead brother, Matty (Josh Peck), and a few others and head into the woods. In short order, Jed has his team of young civilians working like a well oiled machine, ambushing Korean troops, stealing their automatic weapons, and inspiring others with their terrorist/freedom fighter ways. It sounds all quite thrilling, right?

Sure. The action can trick you into thinking there is more to it than you think, sadly, there is less. Red Dawn presents a murky timeline, everything seems to take a matter of days between the initial invasion and full occupation. Frankly, I am not buying it. The narrative skips around, using action as a distraction to cover the lack of story and character.

The whole exercise rings hollow. The threat of full scale invasion such as that depicted here is just not believable. There is no way Korea could mount a sizable enough army to do it. Of course, the kids are such a dysfunctional group that it is surprising they last a day, especially with Matty. Besides Josh Peck's gating performance, he is such a self centered character that he would give hem up I'm a heartbeat, inadvertently of course.

This is really a bad movie. At no point was I sold on it. Sure, I had a pretty good idea going in that it was not going to be good, but I held out a little hope it would be at least modestly entertaining. It wasn't. Nothing rings true, there is no development of characters to speak of, and no real reason to care. I saw opportunities for interesting character moments but instead of doing something interesting, they were just dropped, ignored, omitted, and forgotten. Also, what was with the new weapon that didn't affect the Koreans? Another missed opportunity.

Red Dawn fails on pretty much every level. Considering how long it has sat around. I suspect it was only released to theaters in an attempt to cash in on Chris Hemsworth's rising star. I guess the same argument could be made for The Cabin in the Woods, another Hemsworth film released earlier this year and made prior to Red Dawn. The difference being that is an excellent and highly original film that a studio did not know how to effectively market.

This is a movie to be avoided. It lacks intelligent and fun. I would have been happy with either one of the two. However, if you are easily distracted by endless generic action scenes and moments of faked emotions, by all means, enjoy. You would be better served to watch the original, it may not be without its own set of faults, but it feels much more genuine.

Not Recommended.

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