With Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, Will Yun Lee. Written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore. Directed by Dan Bradley. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language. 93 minutes.
A long time ago in a decade far, far away there was a thing called the “Cold War.” By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan – who had been a movie actor when the Cold War started – had become President of the United States. His response to the threat of the Soviet Union was to initiate a project named for a movie series: “Star Wars.” It was to be a “space shield” that would protect us from the nuclear missiles the “Commies” (short for “Communists”) were going to use to destroy us all in World War III.
That history lesson is important because it explains the context for the 1984 movie “Red Dawn.” Hollywood is usually assumed to be liberal, but they are, in fact, capitalist, making whatever movies they think will be profitable. The 1980s was the era of “Top Gun,” “Rambo,” “Invasion U.S.A.,” and “Red Dawn.” In the 1984 “Red Dawn” – written and co-directed by “Apocalypse Now” scripter John Milius – the worst happens: the Russians invade the United States and it’s up to a bunch of feisty teenagers to fight back. It was silly and campy and over-the-top, but it did at least reflect the fears of the time.
In this new RED DAWN, it’s not quite clear what’s being addressed. Originally shot in 2009 and set for a 2010 release, the film has been sitting on the shelf for two years as MGM went in and out of its financial troubles. What was intended as an update – with the invaders changed to China – was revised in post-production to an invasion of America by North Korea. Yes, North Korea, a country that is essentially a prison camp for its own population and which can barely sustain itself somehow became a superpower which took out the American military and our major population centers.
Our heroes are a group of teens in Spokane, Washginton. Jed (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave from the Marines. His younger brother Matt (Josh Peck) is, like several of the other kids, on the local high school football team, the Wolverines. When the North Koreans start parachuting into Spokane, Jed and Matt and several of their friends head into the woods, preparing to hide and fight back.
Does it make any sense? Of course not. The notion of North Korea conquering the U.S. – even with Russian help – is ludicrous. To even approach the resonance of the original the invasion would have to come from Iran or Saudi Arabia with the intent of putting the US under sharia law. Instead we watch the North Koreans (led by Will Yun Lee who presumably played the part as someone from the People’s Republic of China) trying to “liberate” Spokane from the evil capitalists, as the Wolverines engage in sabotage and subterfuge.
This is one of those movies that has no reason to exist. It is a remake that no one was asking for and probably would have gone right to video if it wasn’t for the fact that Chris Hemsworth subsequently made “Thor” and “The Avengers.” In fact, after a brief stay in the theaters it will likely be rushed onto DVD. The 1984 “Red Dawn” may have been a cheesy movie but it reflected the anxieties of its era. This version simply reflects a business decision gone bad.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.