Despite the considerable impediment of a premise arguably even sillier than that of the original “Red Dawn,” helmer Dan Bradley’s long-delayed remake of John Milius’ 1984 kids-vs.-Commies adventure delivers enough thrilling action sequences and rock-’em, sock-’em fantasy-fulfillment to amp its B.O. potential. Of course, considering the near-deafening negative buzz generated during its extended post-production period, the pic might elicit muted praise from critics as well as ticketbuyers simply for not living down to expectations. FilmDistrict plans a Nov. 21 release, though it’s amusing to ponder its potential political and pop-cultural impact were it released before Election Day.
Much like the ’84 pic co-written by Milius and Kevin Reynolds (and duly credited as inspiration in the opening credits here), the remake depicts the heroic exploits of teen resistance fighters after their community is invaded by an occupying force. In this version of the story, the community is Spokane, Wash., not a Colorado hamlet, and the invaders aren’t Cold War-era Soviet troops, but … well, something else.
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: China was depicted as the aggressor when this “Red Dawn” was shot in 2009. But after MGM, its original distributor, declared bankruptcy, the producers opted to make the pic more appealing to other distribs (particularly those wary of offending Chinese government officials) by refilming scenes, relooping dialogue and digitally altering flags and military insignia to transform the bad guys into war-mongering North Koreans.
Even so, it should be noted that the pic sporadically indicates that, somehow, Russians also are involved in the invasion. Judging by what’s shown and said here, however, China isn’t merely a non-issue; it doesn’t exist.
Despite the change — or to be more precise, changes — to the nationality of the occupying army, it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do-or-die as outgunned and outnumbered partisans take their best shots during an urban guerrilla campaign against the enemy.
Led by the slightly older Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), a newly returned Iraq War veteran, the teen commandos commandeer the name Wolverines from their high-school football team — a plot point considerably more significant in the original — and repeatedly return to Spokane from their woodland camp to carry out sabotage and assassination missions.
The young warriors — including Matt (Josh Peck), Jed’s impetuous younger brother; Toni (Adrianne Palicki), a tough fighter who’s conspicuously sweet on Jed; and Daryl (Connor Cruise), who’s distraught to see his dad, the Spokane mayor, collaborating with the enemy — are plucky rebels who take to combat with remarkable ease. The pic fleetingly suggests that vidgame experience fortuitously prepared them for real-life fighting. (Still, one commando isn’t entirely grateful: “Dude, we’re living ‘Call of Duty.’ And it sucks.”)
Battle scenes are infused with a propulsive sense of urgency, as Bradley (a vet stunt coordinator and second unit director) often achieves an effective semi-documentary look with Mitchell Amundsen’s skittish handheld lensing and Richard Pearson’s kinetic editing. Pic was shot on Michigan locales that persuasively double for the script’s Pacific Northwest setting.
Between stretches of full-tilt excitement, “Red Dawn” slows down for sequences in which actors must deliver dialogue that ranges from serviceable to risible. (Hemsworth and Peck must do some especially heavy lifting.) From time to time, the thesps are a tad too passionately intense for their own good, and aud giggles may result.
Elsewhere, the film takes entirely too long to explain the full scope of the North Korean invasion — how it was accomplished, what other U.S. cities have been overrun, etc. — giving skeptical viewers too much time to pick holes in the thin plot. Late in the action, however, a few questions are helpfully answered by co-stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (more or less channeling the original’s Powers Boothe character) and Kenneth Choi (the pic’s token Asian good guy).
Still, some nagging questions will remain unanswered until “Red Dawn” hits theaters Nov. 21. Despite the original pic’s nostalgic appeal to many Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, will the title have any resonance at all for the remake’s obvious target demographic of young male auds? Or will the new action-adventure rely more heavily on the marquee value of Chris Hemsworth (who actually filmed “Thor” and “The Avengers” after this pic) and the cross-generational allure of all-American, semi-militarized ass-kicking?