After months of political tension and strategic moves, North Korean forces invade the United States, starting from the west coast with troops landing in one suburban town in the state of Washington. Having seen their parents kidnapped or killed, a group of teenagers, lead by a marine on leave from the army and calling themselves ‘Wolverines’, start their rebellion against their new communist leaders.
In the last few months, North Korea has seen a change in leadership and that has brought tension and fear across the world. Nobody knows whether they are testing nuclear weapons or just hyping up their propaganda grasp on their citizens but many, including the United States, would rather not find out first hand. With this new ‘Red Scare’, it is possible to make a movie in which North Korea sets out to take on the world with its wide forces, causing a shift of power and war to be declared across the world and affecting one of the largest superpowers in the world.
Red Dawn is not that movie.
It is hard to discuss everything wrong with how the premise is executed but to simply put, everyone seems inept with plans that seem hard to execute. The North Korean plan of just parachuting into the country whilst American troops are away with other matters seem misguided, cocky and too elaborate and circumstantial to actually work. Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) gets his brother Matt (Josh Peck) and a few other teenagers to lead them to become a freedom force against their North Korean rulers. Of course, this is all done in one training sequence which makes them good enough to fight the many, many Koreans now located in the town, holding some of its people captive. It is about as convincing as a playground scuffle between a slow big kid and a skinny kid with no sense of speed.
The biggest problem with all of this is that it is taken deadly serious. One of the charms of last year’s Battleship, despite the critical reception against it, was that it was obvious that everyone involve wanted the public to enjoy the outlandish and crazy experience and at its heart, was a fun, crazy thrill ride. Red Dawn ranks in the same level as Battle Los Angeles, a badly put together explosion fest where you cannot see much of what is going on and where everyone plays the ‘AMERICA IS THE BEST!’ line so much it makes you wonder who in the process thought it was the right way to go about it. Whilst Red Dawn has a better story structure and does not suffer from Shakey Cam Syndrome as much, it still feels like the majority involved in its production genuinely thought the right message was being expressed, even throwing out the weirdest piece of political spin about the Iraq war that could have ever been possible which is even more offensive then the forced Subway promotion halfway through.
Hemsworth seems to not care that he is in this movie, going from dazed and uninterested to grunting but still uninterested with as much natural progression as a man recovering from a hangover. Josh Hutcherson seems to want to do something and whilst his effort is admired, he neither does enough with the time he has nor has enough time to really try. The rest of the young cast, including Adrianne Palicki and Isabel Lucas, are disposable as disposable can be with veterans Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Brett Cullen barely being in it long enough to either care about them or for them to get their cup of coffee from the set to take away.
The stand out, and not in a good way, is Josh Peck. The former other half of Nickelodeon duo Drake and Josh wants to be a new action star so badly, he tries to play a fusion of Jason Statham and Christian Bale’s Batman and comes off as not so much a bad representation as a tough guy as much as an insult to pale imitations. He gets into a grunting match with Chris Hemsworth that is so ridiculous and bad in its execution that you wonder how Hemsworth did not just punch Peck in the face and walk off set from what amounts to an elaborate attempt at career sabotage which could well have been successful if not for the fact he is part of the billion dollar Avengers franchise. Great comedic actors can sometimes be some of the best serious actors in how they are still able to keep that investment they have from making people laugh and morph their personality into something completely different. Peck does not as much not succeed in this as much as fall over the starting line before the first hurdle tripping over his shoelaces.
Ignoring the fact that it is a remake of the 80s classic starring the late Patrick Swayze and thinking of the new version on its own merits, Red Dawn has nothing to contribute except irony and confusion. The plot has more holes then there really should be, performances that range from non caring to over exaggeration and the dialogue is full of so much cliché and ‘AMERICA!’ that you almost want to root for North Korea besides the fact that they are so inept at dealing with a group of kids that become superheroes via a single training montage.
Red Dawn is out on March 15th in the UK and is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray in the US. The original 1984 version is still available on DVD and Blu-Ray.