Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: "Red Dawn"

Like its predecessor, “Red Dawn” is a bunch of silly, jingoistic claptrap – but it’s decently well-done claptrap.

The 1984 original starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell was most famous for being the first movie released with the new PG-13 rating (“Dreamscape” followed five days later), and for being emblematic of the rah-rah patriotism of the Reagan era. The Soviets and their allies stage a surprise military takeover of the U.S., but are ultimately beaten back by a ragtag group of teenage guerilla fighters.

Since the Reds are mostly gone or gleefully practicing capitalism these days, how to approach a remake? Originally, screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore cast the Chinese as the heavies. But then somebody remembered how many movie tickets get sold in China, so a post-production retooling turned the North Koreans into the bad guys.

(“Red Dawn” was actually shot more than three years ago and shelved until the studio honchos figured out what to do with it.)

Now, there’s no denying that North Korea remains a bad actor on the global stage, constantly threatening warfare and firing off test missiles. But former leader Kim Jong Il was a comical figure known more for bluster than any actual capacity to wreak havoc. Indeed, the impoverished, isolated country can’t even feed its 24 million people without coerced food assistance from the international community.

And these are the nefarious villains we’re supposed to believe bring America to its knees?

A montage of news clips sets the improbable stage, with the financial instability in the EU handcuffing our friends across the pond when North Korean launches some super-secret pulse weapon that shuts down our power grid and communications. In Spokane, Wash., the townsfolk are astonished to see paratroopers descending upon them, setting up blockades and shooting those who don’t comply.

The main baddie is Captain Cho (Will Lun Lee), the local prefecture in charge of running the area. Cho and the rest of his soldiers are presented as generic bad guys, which tempers some of the illogic of a North Korean invasion. But it also renders them as mindless automatons waiting to be blown away by the good guys. The original movie at least presented a Cuban soldier with some depth and empathy.

As to those good guys, they’re a fairly standard-issue bunch. Jed (Chris Hemsworth), the leader, is a little older than the rest, a Marine veteran of Iraq who’s constantly having to whip his hot-dogging little brother Matt (Josh Peck) into line. Matt endangers one of their missions to rescue his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), who was captured and put into a reeducation camp.

Josh Hutcherson plays Robert, the resident hothead, Adrianne Palicki is Toni, a soft girl who grows tough and pines for Jed, and Edwin Hodge and Alyssa Diaz are expendables. It’s the usual collection of actors in their mid- to late-20s playing 17, with the notable exception of Connor Cruise. As Daryl, the son of the mayor who collaborates with the occupiers, Cruise gets to have a few conflicted, emotive moments.

Calling themselves Wolverines after their high school mascot, the troupe transitions from shaky escapees to badass killers in record time. A 5-minute training montage is all that’s needed, and soon the North Koreans have a bona fide uprising on their hands.

It’s reasonably thrilling stuff, though rookie director Dan Bradley is an ardent devotee of the Shaky Cam School of Action Filmmaking. Car chases and fisticuffs are reduced to virtually indecipherable rides in a high-speed blender.

But Bradley and his cast hit the right emotional crescendos, with an end result that feels decidedly less lunk-headed than the original. For goofy escapism, you could do worse than this "Red Dawn."

2.5 stars out of four

Christopher Lloyd is co-founder of The Film Yap.

No comments:

Post a Comment