Mania Review: Red Dawn -

Mania Review: Red Dawn

Mania Grade: C-

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  • Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
  • Written by: Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore
  • Directed by: Dan Bradley
  • Studio: Film District
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Red Dawn

Sleep through it.

By Rob Vaux     November 21, 2012

 I can appreciate a remake when executed with a certain amount of enthusiasm: a filmmaker who really loved the original can put his own spin on it while paying proper homage at the same time. In no way does that apply to the creators of the new Red Dawn. They really seem to miss the point; more pertinently, they don’t have one of their own to replace it with. We’re left with a chop-shop version of the first film, with the serial numbers sanded off and a clunkier, less interesting engine driving it forward. If it fails to offend us, it’s only because it fails to invest us with any rooting interest. We don’t care about anything or anyone onscreen, turning it into a lot of senseless noise.

Granted, the John Milius original wasn’t exactly a classic. But it had a crazy energy and a fervent belief in its ludicrous concept that demanded attention. And once you got past the big leap that its premise demanded – an armed invasion of the United States by a belligerent foreign power – its convictions carried it quite a long way. So too did its refreshing fatalism and its commitment to avoiding the traditional clichés of Reagan-era action films. It was crazy, paranoid, jingoistic, and ridiculous in all the wrong ways… and yet it still held your attention through sheer force of will.

The remake offers none of these things. It has no passion because it has no real point of view. It just goes through the motions: empty actions performed by empty characters with no concept of the political quicksand into which it blithely stumbles. The first film was jingoistic, yes, but it believed in its jingoism. This one can’t even muster the energy for that. Even its watered-down patriotism smacks of bored fifth graders reciting the Pledge of Allegiance: a routine dirge incapable of stirring anyone’s blood (either positively or negatively).

It’s telling, too, that they swapped bad guys late in the game. Originally, the invaders of our fair shores were supposed to be Chinese. Then someone pointed out that China was a big market for stupid action movies, and the villains became North Korean (thanks to a little CGI and a lot of bad redubbing). At least they get the geography right. Thanks to a convenient plot device, the Evil Ferners cripple our defense systems and start landing troops in Washington State. Spokane is quickly overrun and occupied, though a small band of young people flees to the nearby woods. Led by Iraq veteran Robert (Chris Hemsworth), they quickly form into a guerilla strike force, practicing hit-and-run tactics both in the forest and on the streets of Spokane itself.

As with the first film, you have to buy a lot to get there. But even if you can swallow the whole paranoid “no one could seem them coming over 3,000 miles of ocean” thing, Red Dawn doesn’t reward you for your efforts. The whole idea is to see how ordinary Americans would fight a traditional enemy on their home soil: to apply established training and combat methods for guerilla fighters elsewhere in the world to small-town just-plain-folks. But Red Dawn quickly skips over all those elements. We get training methods in a quick montage, followed by a lot of pointless fighting sequences that let our heroes mow down Koreans at random.  A principal adversary emerges (Will Yun Lee), brimming with foreign Otherness but otherwise devoid of personality.  

Indeed the whole film fails to register any pulse. Hemsworth does a little to alleviate the tedium, but you keep expecting him to pull out Mjolnir and end the whole thing in one fell swoop, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan swoops in for some eleventh-hour heroics that come far too late to save us. The remainder of the film is a slow, pointless march to nowhere in particular. We see nothing of interest or relevance in its hastily-executed action scenes, and if it didn’t have a recognizable brand name to cling to, it would disappear into the fog of direct-to-Netflix also-rans. And speaking of the brand name…. the new Red Dawn enjoys trotting out tropes from the old film, such as the teenagers adopting their high school mascot (the Wolverines) as a rallying cry for all their oppressed countrymen. But they’re as devoid of passion as the rest of the film, a perfunctory gesture to the fans instead of a claim to any real identity.

Perhaps most tellingly, Red Dawn has already been lapped by a number of other productions who deliver the same basic material better. The Dark Knight Rises already delivered a guerilla war in an urban setting, while Falling Skies goes into far greater detail about the trials and tribulations of surviving in an occupied homeland. We weren’t expecting this effort to reach such heights, of course, but Red Dawn might have saved itself with just a little more flair. As it stands, it merely answers the question as to why it’s been rotting on the shelf for three years, and with Hemsworth moving on to better things, I don’t expect we’ll hear much more about it. It’s worse than bad, it’s forgettable: something we never said about its predecessor, and which now stands as the only epitaph it deserves. 


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flyinroo 11/21/2012 12:20:39 AM

 The original is actually one of my favorite movies. Its lack of believability aside, it brings you into the story and allows you to be a part of it. I'm sure it doesn't hold up today now that the Cold War is a thing of the past, but at the time, we could easily identify with it.

Every time I see the trailer or a TV spot for this, I cringe. It looks to be so ridiculous that I actually get offended by its absurdity. When it is streaming on Netflix I still will avoid it. Absolutely ZERO interest.

doublec 11/21/2012 1:55:22 AM

Actually Netflix is currently streaming a very good film on this same general topic. It's called Tomorrow, When The War Began. It's about a group of Australian teens who are camping in the bush, then return to find Australia has been invaded  by an Asian power (whose identity is wisely not revealed). It's based on an extremely popular series of young-adult novels Down Under and is a much more character-driven version of the story. In true HungerGames/BattleRoyale fashion the books and the movie are frequently criticized as being a ripoff of the original Red Dawn!

fenngibbon 11/21/2012 6:57:55 AM

 At least the original made an effort at the set up (land invasion through Alaska and Canada into the Midwest after infiltration through the southern border and nuke strikes on several cities to disrupt command, control, and communications). A sea invasion of the Pacific Northwest was silly when the Chinese were doing it; when they switched to North Korea they might as well have just thrown in the towel.

TheSilentKiller 11/21/2012 9:28:53 AM

The twist in this one is that Chris Hemsworth's character breaks out Mjolnir in the 8th reel.

monkeyfoot 11/21/2012 9:46:43 AM

Damn censoring software!!!!!

I typed a paragraph of stuff and apparently the software thought something wasn't decent and ate it!

To sum it up:

Red Dawn: product of its times. John Milius was perfect director for it.

New version is just money grab. I'll probably see it though because I know some of the places it was shot.

InnerSanctum 11/21/2012 12:25:08 PM

 I really can't help but laugh when I see the trailer for this film.  

Shellhead88 11/21/2012 12:28:21 PM

I had a buddy that wouldn't do anything if that movie was on. He would go through th TV guide and look up all the times that Red Dawn was on, and watch every single one of them. We would go outside with our toy guns (back when they looked like real guns.) and play Red Dawn. He was always Swayze's character and was Charlie's character. We had a whole group of us that would do this. So this movie may have not aged well, but I still love it. Know where did I put my tiger blood?

InnerSanctum 11/21/2012 12:30:31 PM

 I have to question this rating.  The original was fun, but was a C effort.  If this doesn't even have the heart of its predecessor, then I would think it would be an F.  Like copying from an ecyclopedia hoping you won't get caught.  

rogue188 11/21/2012 12:37:50 PM

I would never watch this movie. I am saddened that they even released it after an almost two-year shelving.

elrushbo 11/21/2012 9:57:04 PM

North Korea wouldn't be able to move people over here even if they got some magic weapon. PC bs trying to avoid offending the Chinese

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