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Dan's Review: Red Dawn

WOLVERINES!!!...again...
Red Dawn (Lionsgate)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language.

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Connor Cruise, Edwin Hodge, Alyssa Diaz, Brett Cullen, Michael Beach, Will Yun Lee, Matt Gerald, Kenneth Choi.

Written by Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore, based on the 1984 screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and John Milius, based on a story by Kevin Reynolds.

Directed by Dan Bradley.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:


Of all the movies I'd consider as a great idea for a possible remake, 1984's Red Dawn is not one of them. Nevertheless, someone thought it was a good idea, and someone gave them money to do it, which is why we can all once again shout "Wolverines!" with all the jingoistic pride in our souls. The problem is, the Cold War ended shortly after the 1984 version, giving us a very slim contemporary pool to draw Commie oppressors from. In short, we're running out of Commies to be scared of.

Chris Hemsworth stars as Jed, a U.S. marine on leave when North Korea decides to invade his hometown of Spokane, Washington (sources tell me Spokane really is a rich enemy target, although such possibilities are never addressed in the film). As the invasion unfolds, Jed grabs his brother Matt (Josh Peck) and a handful of high school kids, escaping into the woods. Jed trains the kids to be real fighters, and they begin to do what freedom fighters do, reeking havoc on their Commie invaders.

As the kids suffer a few losses and debilitate the local North Korean army, they gain notoriety among the people and the remaining U.S. forces. A team of commandos led by Lt. Col. Andy Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) eventually hooks up with the "Wolverines," who plot a daring raid on the North Korean Spokane headquarters, where they hope to grab an important communications device that might turn the tide of the war.

Red Dawn is a remake, so if you've seen the 1984 version (starring the late Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen as Jed and Matt), you kind of know how it turns out. One small difference is the new Red Dawn leaves a little room for a sequel.

Again, the choice to remake Red Dawn is a puzzling one. One scene in the film might shed a little light on where the producers got their inspiration for the going there. In the scene, the wolverines are huddled together in their secret woodland hideout, talking about all the creature comforts they miss since the war began. One of them talks about missing his Modern Warfare video game, to which the other kids remind him that he's IN a real-life Modern Warfare game, eliciting nervous laughter from the kids. I guess that's their target audience, but most gamers know a high definition video game is more realistic than a Red Dawn remake, and certainly more entertaining.

Red Dawn was shot in "shaky camera" mode, a technique that often times hides the fact that producers lack scenery and other compelling visuals. It's annoying, and shaking the camera does more to encourage vomiting than it does to create a feeling of being in the battle, especially since the shaking often continues during quiet dialogue scenes.

Chris Hemsworth adds a little star power to the movie, which was shot more than 3 years ago, and held for release due to MGM's financial troubles. He might have been a marginal star if it had been released at about the same time as Star Trek (in which he had a minor role), but not likely, despite his grand Thor/Avengers persona ever since. Either way, Red Dawn seems like minor film with a minor cast, suitable for direct-to-video options.

One other big reason Red Dawn's release was halted a few years ago a political one. Turns out the Chinese don't like being villains in movies, and American movie studios have caught on that China is kind of an important film market. Red Dawn was shot entirely using the Chinese, not the North Koreans as the bad guys, causing the producers to backpedal and alter all Chinese indicators (flags, language, names) using computerized graphics. Oops, our bad...we love the Chinese now. Please send Yuans. If the North Koreans ever open up their film markets to U.S. distributors, filmmakers will have an even smaller pool of "evil Commies" to choose from.

All political/business reasons aside, Red Dawn is not much better than the original version, and much less relevant, considering the end of the Cold War. Some may find the action exciting and some may take pride by witnessing regular kids putting their lives on the line for their country, but the reality of a Red Dawn-like scenario seems a little forced at this point in history.


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