CATEGORIES Movie NewsWhat once was old is new again! Even old stuff that you probably only sort of remember, which is why we are being bombarded with a reformatted "Red Dawn," a vaguely apocalyptic action thriller full of hot young actors (among them, Asgard's protector Chris Hemsworth, Hunger Gamer Josh Hutcherson and Nickelodeon superstar Josh Peck) who were probably too young to remember the original. Well, no matter. The teens need something to watch now that the glittery vampire luster of "Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" has faded.
Now, the real question is: will you, hard-working moviegoer, want to pluck down for the new "Red Dawn" or is it something you'd rather just let fade into the sunset? Read on to find out!
CON: It's a Completely Unnecessary Remake The original "Red Dawn," released in 1984, is little more than a Reagan-era curio, one whose longevity has been assured, not because of some cult status or critical reevaluation, but because of the starry cast (Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Lea Thompson) and the fact that it runs every few months on TNT. The first flick concerned Russia (with the help of Cuban and Nicaraguan forces) invading America, which left a group of teenage resistance fighters to lead the charge and defend their home. It was dripping with Cold War paranoia and ultra-conservative rhetoric and, today, is barely watchable. Why the powers that be thought that there was enough name recognition in "Red Dawn" to carry a remake is unclear. Those of us who are old enough to remember the original aren't like "Yeah, 'Red Dawn' is one of my favorites." It's more like one of those movies you watch if it's on cable and you're too tired to look for your Blu-ray copy of "Drive." But apparently, the studio ran some algorithm and found the value in it... because "Red Dawn" is back... for some reason.
PRO: It Sort of Reminds You of "Friday Night Lights" The opening of "Red Dawn" is kind of rousing -- it's set at a high school football game, where we first meet the various ragamuffins who will lead a super-violent fight against invading Asian forces. This is "Red Dawn" at its best and most intense, mainly because it reminded me of "Fright Night Lights," Peter Berg's beloved, criminally under-watched series about a small-town Texas football team defined by their pluck and folksy earnestness. The freedom fighters even name themselves the Wolverines after the football team's emblematic mascot. It also doesn't hurt that wonderfully adorable "Friday Night Lights" alum Adrianne Palicki shows up, which is always appreciated and sort of bittersweet. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.
PRO: Chris Hemsworth Is Dreamy... Chris Hemsworth seems like one of those dudes who is charming and handsome enough to become a genuine, next-level movie star. And he's proved that three times already, in horror movie deconstruction "Cabin in the Woods," that little art house flick "The Avengers" and the marginal but gorgeously stylized "Snow White and the Huntsman." Even though "Red Dawn" was made before all those films (more on that in a minute) by a more inexperienced, less hunky Hemsworth, his star wattage is still blinding here. As the oldest member of the Wolverines, he exudes confidence and a sense of restrained sexuality (no time for whoopee when the world's coming to an end). You just wish his magnetism was pointed in the direction of a better movie.
CON: ... But His Character Is Totally Undefined Like every other character in "Red Dawn," Hemsworth is ill-defined at best. His reasons for leaving the army are never truly explained and the interpersonal dynamics of the family left unexplored, mostly because in the movie's rush towards plot-plot-plot, it doesn't fill in any of the characters. (And we do mean any of the characters.) All of the kids look the same in that anonymously Photoshopped, Abercrombie & Fitch model way, and their defining characteristics are interchangeable and bland. Sure, teenagers are pretty boring, but what happened to action movies where characters' names gave way not only to their ethnicity but their level of toughness? We needed a Rico or a Wing in this bunch!
PRO: Dragonette Is On The Soundtrack For A Minute There's a moment when Isabel Lucas rolls up to pick up her moody boyfriend (Peck), and you can hear a song by Dragonette -- an excellent Canadian electro-pop band -- pumping out of her car stereo. It is a moment that's more exciting than any of the listless action sequences.
CON: You Can Tell It Was Monkeyed With While the cast appears to be ultra-savvy, playing up the recent blockbuster successes of Hutcherson and Hemsworth is actually dumb luck -- "Red Dawn" was shot long before they became superstars, and the film was sidelined for years due to the bankruptcy of original studio MGM. After the movie was picked up (this time by FilmDistrict), they made the canny decision to swap out the film's villains, who were originally portrayed as being Chinese, changing them to North Koreans. Wisely, they didn't want to piss off a country that could contribute untold millions to the movie's worldwide box-office tally. But on an artistic level it's an absolute wash. You can tell that they have swapped out the dialogue, even without knowing the nuances of each language, as it ends up looking like the Raymond Burr version of "Godzilla." The logos on all the tanks and planes and buildings look crassly replaced, too, adding even more mud to a movie that was already visually hazy.
CON: Any Opportunity For Social Commentary Is Ignored Dan Bradley, a stunt coordinator and second-unit film director on some of Hollywood's biggest hits (among them: "Independence Day" and "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"), directed "Red Dawn," but his experience doesn't translate here, with action sequences that are too busy and unfocused. These scenes are really marred, though, by their complete lack of social commentary or satire. Even though there are some pretty obvious parallels to be made between the Wolverines and the insurgents in Iraq, "Red Dawn" treats it superficially, with Hemsworth making a simplistic analogy.
CON: The Worst Product Placement Ever Somehow, after America has been overridden by foreign invaders, the good people at Subway keep on keeping on, which allows for a callous moment of product placement where the Wolverines liberate a Subway (no, seriously) of all the nine-grain wheat, fountain soda and oddly consistent tuna salad that they can carry.