Red Dawn (2012)

12 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Suspend your disbelief. Sit back and relax…and then next thing you know, you’re on the edge of your seat in the middle of intense action! That is the best way to enjoy “Red Dawn”—at least, that’s how it was for me. Yes, it’s true—I rather enjoyed this modern retelling of the popular 1984 war film (also called “Red Dawn”), while most critics found it to be disposable entertainment. But here’s the obvious wrong element to that phrase—it’s still entertainment in my eyes. With nicely orchestrated action sequences, and a go-for-it style and tone, I found “Red Dawn” to be a suitably energetic action flick.

For those who don’t recall the original 1984 film, it was about a group of high school teenagers who transform into soldiers when their hometown is in the hands of a foreign army. The idea of young people being able to perform great heroic deeds to defend their home and freedom is still a very intriguing idea, and I’m always interested in checking out what the newest movie of such elements has to offer. Earlier this year, I enjoyed the Australian teenage action/adventure “Tomorrow, When the War Began.” Now about eight months later comes “Red Dawn,” the modern remake of the 1984 film of the same name. And I’ll state right now—I understand the film’s flaws. I get it, OK? The war element is defined in an improbable way. The characters aren’t developed enough. The shaky-cam gimmick that they use gets old, as it usually does. The pacing is a bit rushed. The ending feels more like the end of a first-entry in a franchise (which there probably won’t be).

I get it. I don’t care. I know that’s weird of me to say, but…I don’t care. I was entertained. The action was very intense and it kept me interested in what was going to happen. The teenage characters, while not really developed enough, are still likable enough for us to root for them, and they’re played by appealing young actors. The first sights of jets and paratroopers arriving, as seen looking from a suburban front lawn, are chilling and visceral. And I even bought some of the dramatic moments as well.

Instead of the Russians occupying the hometown of our young heroes, and with connections to other parts of America, it’s North Korea that has become our invaders. (Although, it’s said that Russians have helped—and by the way, don’t ask. You shouldn’t care.) They land in Spokane, Washington the morning after a hard-fought high-school football game. The “Wolverines” star player—Matt Eckert (Josh Peck)—has just cost the game, and goes home in misery, while the next morning, he and his visiting older Marine brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth) are awakened by the thud of bombs. They look outside, see the chaos appearing from the sky as enemy troops attack, and get the hell out of dodge, along with a few friends—including Robert (Josh Hutcherson); Daryl (Connor Cruise); Toni (Adrianne Palicki); Danny (Edwin Hodge); Julie (Alyssa Diaz); and Greg (Julian Alcaraz).

The setup is probably the best part of the movie. Introducing these kids as regular teenagers before putting them in this heavy situation was a smart move—in this way, it plays like the regularity of “Friday Night Lights,” with a neatly-cinematographed football game sequence, as well a brief scene involving small-town mingling, that suddenly gets interrupted by a Roland Emmerich/Michael Bay type of invasion. The sequence in which the attack arrives, recalling 9/11 moments, is very well-done and makes for a very forceful action scene in which Jed, Matt, and friends desperately race to escape town before it gets even worse. But did they really have to shake the camera so much?

So with the town in control of the communistic invaders, and most of their parents already killed (and Daryl’s father is the mayor who has no choice but to help the interlopers), Jed takes charge of the small group and ultimately decides to fight. Thankfully, he has military training and so he trains the younger ones to become soldiers as they plan their moves as a guerilla hit-and-run defense force. They use their name—the Wolverines—as a term of rebellion.

Where’s the US Army, you may ask? Well, they help in the background, and the Wolverines do come across a small group of American fighters, led by Lt. Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who can’t believe that a group of small-town teenagers could possibly be the great line of defense they’ve been hearing about. (Hey, it could happen. And who knows—maybe other football team members have decided to rebel as well.)

I mentioned that the pacing of “Red Dawn” was somewhat rushed. I could have used more scenes in which Jed trains these inexperienced kids how to fight, instead of a quick montage, and I also am a bit confused as to whether or not this is a national invasion or a local invasion. I think they explained it, but it was somewhat brief and I wasn’t sure what was happening to the rest of the United States. There’s the supposed evolving of young Robert as he makes his first kill and then has a supposed “change”—we never see enough of that, nor do we know what he’s going through. The storyline is not easy to figure out once the Wolverines have made themselves known, and that’s what made it more fun, as they race about in one combat sequence after another, and finally planning what they hope to be a final blow (which we all know it is not) as they sneak through the local police station that the enemy has taken as their headquarters.

We still have moments among the characters—not much, but they’ll do. Most of which involve Jed and Matt’s sibling rivalry, as Matt is a class-A screwup trying things his way and unwittingly putting the rest of the team in danger (most of which, from earlier, are attempts to rescue his captured girlfriend Erica, played by Isabel Lucas). Then there’s a very brief subplot in which Toni develops a crush on Jed, and wouldn’t you know it—just before they’re about to get intimate, there’s an explosion in the distance.

Chris Hemsworth plays the strong, effective leader type as well as Patrick Swayze did in the original film 28 years ago. Adrianna Palicki could have had more to do, but she makes the most of her underwritten role. The constantly-working young actor Josh Hutcherson is fine, while newcomer Connor Cruise is adequate at best. Josh Peck’s mumbling sort of got annoying, as did his character’s ego, but the performance kind of grew on me after a while.

I guess I’ll also say this about this “Red Dawn” remake (although I get the feeling I’m never going to live down this positive review)—it’s consistently entertaining. It knows it’s a movie and never tries to become reality, unlike the original film which tried too hard to play at both the violent angles and the dramatic elements to the point where it sort of put itself in the “strong first half/lackluster second half” category. Here, “Red Dawn” is a popcorn movie through and through. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s intense—just don’t expect too much in the sense of logic and you won’t be disappointed.

NOTE: Years later, I took back this positive review. Read the Revised Review here.

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