Movie Review: “Red Dawn”

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“Red Dawn” is a lot funnier than you remember.

Or it is, according to the new remake based on 1984’s Reagan Era rah-rah rural footballers run the Russkies and their Cuban and Nicaraguan surrogates out of an America they have all but conquered. This new “Red Dawn” dispenses with a lot of that red meat redneck Red State red scariness and settles into a solid if silly acton picture about what happens after the North Koreans invade.

Stop laughing.

A brisk news montage under the opening credits, featuring snippets of stories about global financial collapse, rogue state cyber-warfare programs, Obama and Biden warning about this threat or that foreign policy outreach, does all that any “Red Dawn” could ever do to make all this plausible. Yes, the North Koreans have a huge army and a government bent on creating global chaos. No, it won’t help the movie to worry about how they could transport that army the Pacific Northwest.

That’s where ex-jock/current Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave, visiting his widowed police chief dad (Brett Cullen) and ball-hog quarterback younger sibling Matty (Josh Peck). And that’s where he is when the paratroopers tumble in.

“North Korea — It doesn’t make any sense.”

But stuntman turned director Dan Bradley doesn’t sti still long enough for that to sink in. In a jerky and jarring shaky-cam escape sequence, the Eckert brothers and assorted friends and hangers-on — the tech nerd (Josh Hutcherson), the mayor’s son (Connor Cruise), assorted jocks and cheerleaders, head for the hills. Or the mountains. That’s where they plot America’s comeback.

“We inherited our freedom,” Jed, who literally towers over the others, preaches. “Now it’s up to all of us to fight for it.”

The original “Red Dawn” was co-written and directed by John Milius, a primal violence primitivist and true believer when it came to the menace that the president back then obsessed over.  His movie had a scruffy, lived-in “Friday Night Lights’ Meets ‘Lord of the Flies” aura about it, rural kids comfortable with guns improvising their way to getting comfortable shooting Russians and Cubans. The new “Dawn” has the Marine teach city kids insurgent warfare. Not better, just different.

The original film was weepy — Patrick Swayze mourning his father (Harry Dean Stanton, who had the best line not repeated here — “AVENGE me, BOYS!” It had Jennifer Grey risking her neck and dying a good death. Here, it’s mushy-centered self-absorbed Josh Peck trying to free his imprisoned cheerleader girlfriend (Isabel Lucas). The new “Dawn” doesn’t have the moist-eyed heart that a true believer might have given it.

But it does have laughs. What do you miss most about The World, boys?

“Call of Duty–Modern Warfare.”

“Dude, we’re LIVING ‘Call of Duty.'”

Feeling bad, make a mistake, get hurt?

“This is war. Rub some dirty on it!”

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the real soldier who stumbles into their midst (Powers Boothe played that role in the original). Will Yun Lee is the hapless Korean Captain chasing these “Wolverines,” commandos who take their high school mascot’s name into combat. One area the remake matches the original is in that school spirit cheerleading every ambush way the movie works. It has real crowd-pleasing potential.

And the way it betters the first film is in every firefight, every improvised explosion. Bradley auditions for a future “Die Hard” here. And passes.

Which is about where “Red Dawn” lands — a passing grade. Then and now, it doesn’t pay dividends to think too hard about how what happens, happens. It just does.

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Adrienne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Credits: Directed by Dan Bradley, scripted by Jeremy Passmore and Carl Ellsworth, based on the screenplay by Kevin Reyolds and John Milius. A FilmDistrict release.  

Running time: 1:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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