Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Dawn (2012)

Directed by Dan Bradley.
2012. Rated PG-13, 93 minutes.
Josh Peck
Adrianne Palicki
Connor Cruise
Edwin Hodge
Alyssa Diaz
Julian Alcaraz
Will Yun Lee
Brett Cullen
Fernando Chien
Kenneth Choi

The first person we meet is Matt Eckert (Peck). He’s a hotshot high-school quarterback who selfishly puts himself before his team, the Wolverines. Hint: this will be a recurring theme. We next meet his father Tom (Cullen), the local tough guy cop and his tough guy brother Jed (Hemsworth), home on leave from the military. Blanks are filled in by an assortment of locals. You know the locals: the girlfriend, the geek, the other girl(s), the black guy, etc. In a shocking nod to diversity, we actually get two black guys. Of course, neither one…well, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Most of the locals are teenagers and friends of the boys, but there are a few strangers who find themselves in this ragtag bunch due to the circumstances. What circumstances? North Korea has invaded the United States and are hitting the town of Spokane, Washington pretty hard. A daring escape forms the aforementioned bunch, without dad, by the way. One thing leads to another and before you know it, they’ve become a resistance known as…wait for it…wait for it…the Wolverines! Yayyy! If, like me, you’re old enough to actually remember the last decade of The Cold War then you probably know this is a remake of the 1984 original which stars Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and a number of the day’s hottest young stars.

Like its predecessor, Red Dawn is a relentless barrage of blood-soaked patriotism. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with national pride, but that’s pretty much all there is. Some effort is made to develop the relationship between the brothers, but I've already told you everything there is to know. Everyone else is a cardboard cutout either part of and/or helping the resistance, or they’re traitors, saving their own hides by helping the enemy. Speaking of the North Koreans, that’s just it – they’re North Koreans. The idea, drilled home by all the news blurbs that open the film, is that their current real-life leadership is not only crazy enough to invade they actually make that move. From there, we get a depiction of how we Americans like to think we’d react to such a situation.

Of course, such a depiction requires lots of action. Red Dawn does lots of things well in this department. For starters, there’s lots of it. The next supposedly covert operation is never far away. It should go without saying that each one erupts in gunfire. These scenes do a surprisingly decent job of creating tension. If nothing else, we know that a number of North Koreans (and their supporters) will die along with one of our heroes. Guessing which “good” guy gets it is where the  tension is. The problem here, like with the rest of the movie, is we might be emotionally invested in the cause (provided we’re American or anti-North Korean), but not in any character not named Matt or Jed. Therefore, ancillary characters dying is of little concern to us. Even worse, when the movie tries to manipulate us one last time with a major decision made by one of these people, we’re just thankful he made the choice on his own because we wouldn't hesitate to shoot him, otherwise. Our lack of compassion for this character further proves that our roster of freedom fighters is made up of types rather than actual people. Magical Negro, anyone?

Okay, so depth is not found here. It’s a shoot ‘em up, popcorn flick designed by Americans for Americans and uses no uncertain terms. At being precisely this it succeeds. Note for note, it’s practically identical to the clunker Battleship. This one swaps out space aliens for North Koreans. Otherwise, they’re virtually the same. Somehow, this is still better. Perhaps because we can more readily identify with menaces from another country than another planet. More likely, this one removes just enough cheese and other Michael Bay-isms (I know he didn't direct Balttleship) to be a more believable, if still implausible tale. The action looks better and the run time is a good deal shorter, avoiding most of the long, boring stretches where nothing is really happening. Things are happening here all the time. This makes it a fun watch that uses our fears to create an action-filled adventure. There is no cinematic genius on display, so I wouldn't call it good. It’s just a better movie than Battleship constructed from the same parts.

MY SCORE: 5/10


  1. Good review Wendell. This movie was very, very bad and made me appreciate the original so much more. And even that’s not saying anything really.

  2. Thanks. I read your review of it. A little more harsh than mine, but we agree it's not a good movie.