In 1984, gun-loving rightwing nutjob/talented filmmaker John Milius (the man who wrote Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now, directed Conan The Barbarian, and was the basis for the character Walter in The Big Lebowski) decided it was time to teach the kids a thing or two about world politics. So he created Red Dawn, a film about the Russians suddenly invading the US and leaving only a few plucky youngsters led by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen as American’s final saviors against the red menace.
It was a ludicrous fascist fantasy that capitalized on the last gasps of cold war paranoia/xenophobia for a souped up fantasy of violent Reagan era wish fulfillment. On any conventional level, the movie really isn’t very good. However, viewed as a naïve relic of the past, it’s become something of a cult classic. Like any good slice of 80s action cheese it’s got that perfect mixture of impressive action sequences and embarrassingly misconceived storytelling. Now, for some reason we’re getting a 2000 era remake. Given that action movies aren’t as overtly racist in their world politics anymore or as naively earnest (and therefore hilarious), the first thought that came to mind after the announcement was, “what’s the point of that?” Having now seen the final product after it sat in a can for a few years while nervous executives tinkered, that question still remains. On the plus side there is at least some decent action and the messy movie isn’t boring, it’s just a shame that everyone involved couldn’t have dedicated their energy to something that we hadn’t literally seen before.
Red Dawn 2.0 opens similarly to the original with Chris Hemsworth’s (Thor) Jed returning home from the army to visit his family. Then one morning the North Korean army starts bombing buildings and parachuting in troupes with big ol’ machine guns. Soon Jed’s town has been overrun with commies (no one ever says that word, but they might as well) and the young killing machine grabs a few teen buddies (including his brother played by former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck, Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson, and pretty young starlets-in-waiting like Friday Night Lights’ Adrianne Palicki) and heads for the woods. They set up a secret base there, watching as the North Korean army sets up a base in their town. Eventually Hemsworth can’t take it anymore and talks the gang into becoming a terrorist military group who will take out the occupying bastards once and for all! After training the teens in military combat in what feels like a matter of hours (somehow the Korean army doesn’t bother to search the woods for teens that they know are in there when guns start going off, but whatevs). The team stars showing up in town to take out the evil communists and since they’re filled with the infallible righteous good of the American way, they kill the occupying forces left and right as “the wolverines.” Yep, it’s Red Dawn alright and practically a shot-by-shot remake.
Aside from shifting the communist threat from Russia to North Korea for obvious reasons (but don’t worry, the Russkies are still involved), Red Dawn 2012 plays out shockingly similar to the original (well, actually when the film was shot it was the Chinese army, but that was changed in postproduction after it was deemed racist. I’m not sure how focusing on a different Asian community makes the movie less offensive…but whatever). All the major plot beats are there with only minor changes to accommodate modern technology. It’s still essentially a Hardy Boys Vs. Communists fantasy and that’s still both a bad and a good thing. Ultimately the movie is a painfully xenophobic and offensively violent macho fantasy/army recruitment film that qualifies as Z-movie trash. However, for that same reason it’s also a hilarious example of ludicrous pulp. You can’t help but laugh when teens with no training start knocking off dozens of Korean soldiers with ease or when we are asked to care about a YTV-level teen romance in the midst of the carnage. Director Dan Bradley even stages a few overtly comedic sequences (like the gang robbing a Subway in one of the funniest examples of blatant product placement in recent memory) and encourages performances from Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor) and Hutcherson that at times seem to be mocking the movie from the inside. Unfortunately the filmmakers never commit to the comedy, which is a shame because there was a chance to make a darkly comic remake about a generation of teens desensitized, weaned, and trained in military combat through Call Of Duty. Had Dan Bradley done that and/or turned the entire thing into a tongue-in-cheek parody of bad action movies as an homage to the ironic charms of the original, this could have been a solid flick. Unfortunately the deliberate humor ends up coming only in fleeting moments. Most of movie is pure trash (especially any scene with Josh Peck) and it can be a slog to get through the scenes between all the pretty explosions.
And oh what pretty explosions they are. The other major plus in the film is the fact that it was directed by Dan Bradley, the second unit director/stun coordinator responsible for the stunt/action sequences in the Jason Bourne movies, the Spider-man movies, and dozens of other action classics. The man knows stunts and pyrotechnics, so he shoots most of the action scenes CGI free and they are noticeably more visceral as a result. Unsurprisingly, Red Dawn 2012 is filled with incredible action and a few decent laughs, but it just never comes together as a whole. All of the problems that plagued the original film are true of this remake as well. If anything, it’s presentation of the foreign threat is even more offensive since it reduces an entire race of people into zombie killing machines rather than cartoon stereotypes that can’t be taken seriously and the team of squeaky clean young stars is just as unbelievable as the original batch. But at the same time, it’s not like the original movie is a classic beyond the camp appeal. So I suppose if you desperately want to see a Red Dawn remake you’ll be satisfied by this fast paced mix of big action, ridiculous patriotism, and silly B-movie laughs. However, why you would possibly want to see another round of Red Dawn is another question entirely.