Was anyone especially clamoring for a remake of ‘Red Dawn’? I didn’t think so, but hey…here we have one nonetheless. It doesn’t come out until November, so this is a VERY early review of the film (I was lucky enough to be invited to take a look, along with a rather small audience), but the flick has been done for quite some time (it got caught up in the MGM bankruptcy after going before cameras in 2009, just like ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ did…you can see by the expected release date on the poster to the left just how long this has been shelved) now, so what I saw should be the same thing that you wind up seeing later this year. Now, is this new ‘Red Dawn’ any good? It’s actually a surprisingly entertaining, if clearly flawed, action movie with an interesting enough take on the original 1984 film. The basic story is the same, but a lot of details have been tinkered with, making for a similar yet different flick. This is the type of movie where you can sort of decide if it’s going to be for you before you even see it. Do you like action? Are you a fan of the original movie? Does incredibly shaky camerawork bother you? Are you a stickler for character development? Can you root for characters who essentially are terrorists? As long as those questions don’t immediately turn you off, you’re likely in for a good enough time here. For my part, I found parts of it to be rather good, with other parts annoying enough to keep me from fully embracing and completely recommending it with no caveats. It’s an above average action flick, but that’s somewhat damning the film with faint praise, now isn’t it?
The film is essentially a modern update of the original, though many details have been changed. We still have the story of civilians fighting back after an invasion by a foreign military. This time, instead of the Soviets dropping into the midwestern United States at the dawn of World War III, it’s the North Koreans staring an offensive against the U.S., with this story set in Washington State. The story of course starts by introducing us to the characters, mainly brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt (Josh Peck) Eckert. Jed is home from Iraw, and Matt is the captain of the football team. When Spokane is attacked from above, they set out looking for their policeman father (Brett Cullen), but wind up fleeing into the woods with other teenagers like Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Daryl (Connor Cruise), Julie (Alyssa Diaz), and Danny (Edwin Hodge). Soon they’re joined by Toni (Adrianne Palicki), and Jed begins planning a counter-offensive. These are just teens, so they need to be trained, and they take to it surprisingly well, though Matt mostly wants to find his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), who has been sent for “re-education”. Soon, it’s guerilla warfare between the kids (who call themselves the “wolverines” after the name of their school’s teams) and the foreign army, but do they stand any chance?
The cast has turned out to be higher profile than initially expected when the movie went before cameras, but the performances are all pretty standard in the end. The only standout is Josh Peck, who shows a surprising aptitude for action while maintaining the initial immaturity and impulsiveness of his character. Chris Hemsworth is the brawny muscle-man/leader, and does it decent enough to suggest that Marvel may have watched this before casting him in ‘Thor’, but you won’t be in awe of him or anything. Josh Hutcherson is sadly wasted in a thankless supporting prt, as is Adrianne Palicki as a potential love interest for Jed, Isabel Lucas as a damsel in distress, and Brett Cullen as the father of the brothers. Connor Cruise is fine as a fellow teenage soldier, but his dad has nothing to worry about in terms of talent. There’s a small part for Jeffrey Dean Morgan as well as a marine helping the wolverines out, and he’s fine but forgettable. Honestly, it’s an action film, were you expecting anything different here?
In the director’s chair here is Dan Bradley, who’s making his directorial debut after an impressive career as a second unit director and stunt coordinator. He’s notable partially for helping craft the look of the Bourne franchise, and it shows here in his work (he’s also worked on the Spider-Man flicks as well, just to give another example). He’s confident as a filmmaker, though fairly uninterested in character development. He wants lots of battle scenes, and wants you to feel like you’re there. It’s hit and miss, honestly depending on the scene. Some are more visceral than you’d expect (and very interesting, considering we’re basically watching Spokane shot as if it’s downtown Fallujah), and some are overly shaky to the point of near incomprehension and nausea. I’m definitely interested in seeing him potentially direct another film, but it’s clear that he’s got more of a meat and potatoes skill set than that of a burgeoning auteur (for example, there’s no subtlety in how they changed the villains from the Chinese to the North Koreans in Post Production). The script he’s given is from Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore (working off of the original screenplay by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds), and it’s passable but nothing special. They veer towards a political agenda during the opening credits, but seem to forget about that going forward (which didn’t bother me, since the political stance they were hinting at during the opening is far from one I share), and settle on just telling the tale of Americans forced to adopt the tactics of terrorists. They lack in any attempt at realistic character development, but they get you from one set piece to another with little fuss. There are more plot holes than I’d prefer, including a few characters that literally just disappear, but when you don’t care too much about them to begin with, it’s not an awful offense.
Overall, when ‘Red Dawn’ opens in November it has the potential to do very well if marketed properly. It’s better than your standard order action flick, but not unique enough to be a complete success. If you like the original or just dig on war movies, you’ll probably have a good time here. If my review sounded like a review of a loud boring movie, then you probably can take a pass here. I’ll be eager to see how this is received in a few months, but for now, I’m here with one of the first words on the movie, and in short…it’s better than you’d expect.
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Tags: Brett Cullen, Chris Hemsworth, delayed films, Early Review, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, remake