Rating: PG-13 (sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language)
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2012
Directed by: Dan Bradley
Stars: 3 out of 5
The sleepy town of Spokane, Washington is home to returning Iraq war veteran Jed (Chris Hemsworth), a Marine who is at odds with his kid brother Matt (Josh Peck). The brothers seem to live in two different worlds until a well-trained and motivated army of foreign soldiers shuts down the computer grid. This knocks the locals off balance and makes it easy for the soldiers to invade and occupy the city in “Red Dawn,” a remake of the 1984 original film of the same name, which starred Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell.
With no computers to communicate or gather information, the city falls fairly easily, and the residents are now under constant surveillance by the enemy, who are North Koreans rather than Russians in this version of the film. Jed can use his military background to disrupt the daily activities of the soldiers and run them out of town, but he can’t do it alone. Matt reluctantly agrees to help, and together they recruit some of their friends and school chums, including Robert (Josh Hutcherson), who is something of a tech genius. Toni (Adrianne Palicki) is a brave woman who harbors a torch for Jed, and Daryl (Connor Cruise) is the mayor’s son, which gives him much more freedom than the rest of the townspeople.
The group of ragtag teens use a very limited cache of weapons to slowly chip away at the Koreans’ armor. They get an additional infusion of help when three retired Marines headed by Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) offer to join the group. They call themselves the Wolverines (in honor of the local high-school mascot) and proceed to wreak havoc. They suffer some casualties along the way, but they never stop fighting even though they are greatly outnumbered and outgunned. The film largely stays true to the gung-ho spirit of the original, even as it changes enemies and locations to tell a very familiar tale.
In the 1984 original, the enemies invaded in Colorado, right in the heart of the United States. The teenagers who fought back were untrained, many of them barely knowing how to hold a gun, much less shoot one. Viewers had to suspend their disbelief in order to kick back and really enjoy the film for what it was: pure escapist entertainment rather than a statement on war. In this updated version, writers Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore were careful to put more details into the characters to make them more believable. For example, Jed is a veteran of war already, so he has military training and is a viable candidate to train the rest of the group in the finer points of warfare. The strained relationship between Jed and his younger brother is also fairly plausible and very relatable, allowing the audience to identify with the characters more than in the original version. All of these carefully crafted details add to the overall story, although this is still a shoot-’em-up action movie first and foremost.
Director Dan Bradley is making his directorial debut with “Red Dawn,” having directed not so much as a short film or commercial before taking the reins. It’s a risky move, but it’s not like Bradley is a complete stranger to filmmaking. He has been working as a stunt coordinator since 1983, amassing over 100 film credits before sitting in the director’s chair. He had previously worked on two of the Jason Bourne films, and that style of capturing the action is fairly evident in “Red Dawn,” including the handheld camera shakiness that attempts to put the audience in the middle of the action. It’s as if Bradley knew he wanted to make the transition to director, so he paid attention to how cinematography and framing work. The result is a lot of good action sequences that make the film fun to watch.
It is rumored that the film was originally supposed to have the Chinese become the enemy but that the studio balked at the thought of angering the superpower nation, which has become a financial behemoth across the globe. One story goes that the script was quickly changed to feature a North Korean enemy before filming began, while the other story is that the switch occurred after production, using reshoots and CGI. Whatever the real story, it really doesn’t matter who the enemy is. The film, much like the original, is only vaguely political, preferring action and guns to diplomacy. This was a wise decision, because it allows the audience to just sit back and enjoy it as escapist entertainment, much like the original.