Fox // 2012 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 13th, 2013
Get your fight on.
Spokane, Washington is a great place to live. That is, until it's invaded by hostile forces and overrun with murder happy terrorists. Such is the case when Jed (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) and Matt Eckert (Josh Peck, The Wackness) find their hometown under siege by military paratroopers who cut the city off from any hope of rescue. After the brothers witness the death of their father (Brett Cullen, Friday Night Lights), they decide their only option is to fight back; either taking back the town...or die trying. The Eckert brothers enlist the help of other neighborhood kids, including the attractive Toni (Adrianne Palicki, Friday the 13th remake), the apprehensive Robert (Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games), hot headed Daryl (Connor Cruise, son of Tom), and others who will lead a resistance against the vile Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee, Total Recall remake) and his sinister North Korean army.
The original Red Dawn, released in 1984 and directed by John Millius (Conan the Barbarian), is one of those classic '80s films that seems wholly unnecessary for the remake mill. The movie was a product of its time -- when America was truly terrified of war with the Soviet Union -- and thus entrenched in that specific decade. Russia isn't a threat anymore, so why retell the tale?
Those are the only reasons to remake a movie like Red Dawn, and the only reason to remake any film with a strong fan base. You know the filmmakers have made an error of judgment when they use the term "Red" in the title -- specific to Russians in 1984 -- when it has nothing to do with anything on screen.
Red Dawn got off to a bad start right out of the gate. The film was made almost five years prior to its release, but MGM's financial woes and concerns that the film was anti-Chinese (they were the film's original bad guys), it sat on the shelf before it was eventually retooled (including digital changes to costumes and uniforms) to make North Korea the antagonists. This new version of Red Dawn would have been dumped to home video had it not been for the fact that a couple of its stars (Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson) were prominently featured in two of 2012's biggest franchise successes. Sometimes, a little star power goes a long way.
Interestingly, the original Red Dawn is one of the only '80s movies I didn't see during my formative years. I had the pleasure of sitting through it with fresh adult eyes and happily it holds up well. Granted, it's a classic '80s flick through and through, but the story is surprisingly powerful and the action bloody and intense. The 2012 version is not.
It's not that this version of Red Dawn is terrible movie, as much as it's an unnecessary one. The original lacks the polish and slickness of the remake, but those qualities worked in its favor, giving the film a sufficiently gritty quality...well, as gritty as you can get with Patrick Swayze. In that film, we connected with the characters and their plight. Here, we hardly get a moment to know these kids before they're tossed into a barrage of CGI effects.
You certainly can't say Red Dawn lacks action or explosions. On that level, the movie is entertaining enough. Unfortunately, the suspense and nuance of Millius' film gets short changed in the remake by teen girls who are smoking hot Maxim models and characters who do an awful lot of yelling at each other. Save for Hemsworth's roughshod pack leader, the shuffle of kids all blends together and no one makes much of an impression. At best, the acting is passable. At worst, it's insufferable, especially Josh Peck as Hemsworth's impulsive sulking brother. Peck has done impressive work in the past (including the tense ATM), but here he's a mopey-eyed brat you just want to see put out of his (and our) misery. Watchmen's Jeffery Dean Morgan shows up near the end of the film as a fellow freedom fighter, but his presence is too little, too late.
First time director Dan Bradley (who comes from a stunt background) is competent enough behind the camera, but there's nothing that signals the arrival of a great new talent. Everything is by-the-numbers, from The Bourne Identity-like camera work, to the stilted dialogue that feels required and perfunctory. To make matters worse, Red Dawn has one of the worst and least conclusive finales in recent memory. It's obvious the studio was planning for a sequel, which is why the film doesn't actually end but just sort of stops.
Presented in an excellent looking 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer, I have to give MGM props for offering up such a great looking picture. The colors are bright and bold, the black levels solid, and the visual fidelity near perfect. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a bombastic mix that features a lot of gunfire and things getting' blowed up. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this track is near reference quality. Directional effects are plentiful and the track never rests until the end credits roll. Also included are English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. Sadly, there isn't a single bonus feature to be found, save for a digital copy and a standard def version on DVD.
Considering how good the original is, I really wanted to enjoy this take Red Dawn. And yet I just cannot make room in my heart for a film that's so clearly a nostalgia cash grab. Do yourself a favor and revisit the 1984 version. It's miles above this lackluster effort.
Movies don't die, they go to hell and regroup.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy