Saturday, November 24, 2012


Although I ranked the original “Red Dawn” (1984) as a vintage Reagan-era action opus, freshman director Don Bradley’s supercharged, high-octane, remake starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, and Josh Hutcherson surpasses its predecessor on several counts.  The first “Red Dawn” depicted a Soviet invasion of a small Colorado town and the scrappy squad of high school teens who eventually ousted them with their hit-and-run guerrilla warfare.  Patrick Swayze starred in the original, and Charlie Sheen made his cinematic debut.  Anti-Communist, Cold War movies enjoyed a brief renaissance when “Red Dawn” came out.  Clint Eastwood’s “Firefox” (1982) about a washed-up Vietnam pilot who stole a top-secret Soviet stealth jet fighter represented a standard example of these films.  Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky IV” (1985) appeared a year after “Red Dawn” with the Italian Stallion swapping blows with a gigantic Soviet pugilist.  Meanwhile, James Bond had tangled with cunning Soviets in both “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) and “Octopussy” (1983).  The Soviets qualified as despicable B-movie villains, but the Americans defeated them despite any handicaps.  The last gasp of this sub-genre occurred during the 1980s, particularly after the bottom dropped out of the Evil Empire in 1989.  Comparatively, while Milius’ “Red Dawn” unfolded largely in a rural setting, the agile remake occurs in the urban setting of Spokane, Washington.  Bradley and scenarists Carl Ellsworth of “Disturbia” and Jeremy Passmore of “Special” haven’t departed drastically from the original screenplay that Kevin Reynolds of “Waterworld” and John Milius of “Flight of the Intruder” penned.  Whereas the original concluded with the defeat of the enemy and the end of World War III, the “Red Dawn” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) remake leaves the outcome of the action up in the air.  This remake is not as enigmatic about the fate of its protagonist as its predecessor was.  

Chris Hemsworth of "Thor" plays battle seasoned Marine Jed Eckert who comes home to Spokane after his tour of duty.  It seems Jed ran out not only on his father, Spokane Police Sergeant Tom Eckert (Brent Cullen), but also his impressionable younger brother Matt (Josh Peck of “Drillbit Taylor”) and left no messages.  Not long after Jed arrives home, the unexpected happens.  Enemy cargo planes crowd the sky, and paratroopers appear like a blizzard of snowflakes.  Jed, Matt, and their friend Robert (Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games”) scramble for the safety of the family cabin in the woods.  Along the way, they pick up several others as they flee from the besieged city during a harrowing auto chase with the North Koreans in furious pursuit.  Eventually, Jed trains these teens from the bootstraps up into a lethal band of guerrillas.  Soon they become the bane of the North Koreans.  Everywhere our heroes go and devastate the North Koreans, they spray-paint wolverines on the walls.  Wolverines are the name of their high school football team.  No matter how fiercely North Korean District Leader Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee of “Die Another Day”) pursues them, Jed and company elude him at every turn.  One day our heroes join forces with three Marines dispatched to contact them.  Helicopter pilot Colonel Andy Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of “The Losers”) and his two men explain they have been ordered to retrieve a top-secret communications unit that the enemy uses to safeguard its chain of command.  Jed and Matt clash when Matt takes advantage of an opportunity to rescue his girlfriend, Erica Martin (Isabel Lucas of “Immortals”), from a prison bus during a major tactical exercise. One of them dies because Matt goes rogue on the Wolverines.  Before long the North Korean bring in an imposing Russian military adviser who devises a way to track the Wolverines back to their lair.  Jed and Matt square off against each other about Matt’s irresponsible attitude.  Eventually, the two reach reconciliation before the North Koreans descend on them without warning.

One of the biggest criticisms about “Red Dawn” (1984) was its far-fetched premise.  A Soviet airborne invasion seemed dubious initially, and it seems even more implausible in the remake.  The Soviet Union emerged as our chief nemesis from the end of World War II and remained so until 1989.  Pitting a faction of fresh-faced kids against the Soviets isn’t nearly as improbable as pitting them against the North Koreans.  Mind you, nobody considers the North Koreans a serious threat compared with either Russia or China.  One of the strengths of the “Red Dawn” remake, however, is the way it makes the events that precipitate World War III seem credible.  Nevertheless, casting the North Koreans as our adversary remains lamentable.  Originally, the filmmakers cast the Red Chinese as our adversary.  Afterward, the studio changed their minds because China imports Hollywood’s product.  Consequently, the studio kept “Red Dawn” on the shelf for three years while they digitally altered the uniforms, insignia, and identity of the invading army.  Bradley and his writers make us abhor the North Koreans and cheer for the underdog heroes.  Freshman director Don Bradley, who supervised the stunts on “The Bourne” movies as well as “Spider-man 2” and “Spider-man 3,”stages the combat sequences with vigorous aplomb.  The teens look credible enough wielding some impressive firepower. Bradley doesn’t waste time either.  This “Red Dawn” clocks in considerably shorter than the Milius original. Some of the dialogue sounds quotable, particularly the remark about Marines regrouping in Hell.  Altogether, “Red Dawn” qualifies as another of those few remakes that overshadows the original.