Directed by: Dan Bradley
Written by: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore & Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Milius & Kevin Reynolds (1984 screenplay), Kevin Reynolds (story)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Brett Cullen, Will Yun Lee
Ever wonder what would happen if our nation was on the brink of collapse and a communist army invaded overnight? According to the Republican party, we are half way there. Such is the case for the kids in the updated version of the iconic 80’s classic RED DAWN. While the original is evocative of a time in our country’s history rife with Cold War panic, this reboot seems to be borne out of conservative right-wing extremism.
After the death of their mother, brothers Jed and Matt Eckert (Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck) are left emotionally distant from each other. Matt’s the all star quarterback and Jed’s an Iraq War veteran – and neither is discussing their feelings. Faster than you can say “bulgogi,” their suburban Washington town awakens to a terrifying sight: Foreign paratroopers descending upon them. With little warning, the citizens are rounded up as prisoners and the town is under the reign of Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee). However, Jed and Matt lead the charge of a group of young adults (Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, and Connor Cruise) who’ve escaped to the mountains to hone what little skills they have to fight against this horrible oppression. Will they be successful or will this end in despair? As far as the audience is concerned, it’s more of the latter.
Instead of Russians and Cubans, we’ve got North Koreans; instead of Colorado, we’ve got Washington; and instead of a good script, we’ve got re-hashed nonsense. The film smacks of xenophobia mostly due to the CGI-in-post change of villains from Chinese to North Koreans. Frankly, I’m shocked this film wasn’t dumped in the January/ February corridor rather than the highly competitive Fall season. Back in the 80’s, youth brandishing arms and being forced to kill was a shocking image. Today, we’ve been desensitized by films like BATTLE ROYALE and THE HUNGER GAMES circulating in the pop cultural zeitgeist – so the gut-wrenching, palpable feeling of the original is lost in modernization. But perhaps the biggest problem this film has is that the updates don’t amount to a hill of beans. The story never feels fresh or immediate, and only two characters are properly developed. With more craft, this could have been a compelling character driven piece, but instead it collapses under its own weight. The way the film ends feels like 15 minutes are missing from the final reel – and even sadder, it leaves the door open for a sequel that will likely never see the light of day.
With all this darkness dragging down the picture, there is some light that shines through. There is a very subtle clever nod to the original in the update that will make die-hard fans of the original giggle with glee. Stunt-coordinator-turned-director Dan Bradley wisely abandons the script’s schlock two-thirds of the way in and goes balls out on spectacular stunts. It’s all bullets and bad-assery in the climax held in the town’s maze-like police station. Plus Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s late-second-act bow as a pilot who finds his way to the kids’ camp is like a breath of fresh air for those who’ve grown tired of the ensemble cast.
But perhaps my favorite moment of the film – one that may pass most viewers right on by – is when the camera pans across the town’s POW field and shows a sign reading “You deserved this.” Did we?! Is this the update fans of the original really deserved? One thing’s for sure – I’m glad Subway remains open for business during a communist take-over. Best summed up in the words of one of the American military men that arrives to help the kids: “This is a shit sandwich without the bread.”