Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Red Dawn" (2012)

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki and Josh Peck
Written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore
Directed by Dan Bradley
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 93 Minutes

Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is a US Marine on leave, going home to Spokane, Washington, to visit his father, police sergeant Tom Eckert (Brett Cullen) and younger brother Matt (Josh Peck). He finds that Matt, now quarterback of the high school football team the Wolverines, is a cocky, selfish young man who thinks little of others.

That night, the power in town goes out, forcing Tom to go back on duty and leave Jed and Matt alone. When they awake, they find the world has changed around them: North Korean soldiers are parachuting from the skies, rounding up the townspeople. Jed and Matt escape to their father's cabin along with several of Matt's friends, including Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Daryl (Connor Cruise) the son of the mayor, and Toni Walsh (Adrianne Palicki) a friend of Matt's girlfriend, and a few strangers.

But after a fight with Jed, one of the  youngsters betrays their location to Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee) who leads the North Korean contingent in Spokane. Cho brings Tom Eckert and Mayor Jenkins (Michael Beach) to the cabin to force the kids' surrender. But Jed and the others hold strong. Their father asks them to go to war, just before Cho shoots him in the head.

Now, the Eckert boys see themselves forming a resistance. Using Jed's military training and calling themselves the Wolverines, the group of youngsters fights back against the invaders, rallying the people of Spokane to the cause of freedom.

While the original "Red Dawn" is more a cult classic than a great film, I was nonetheless surprised by the announcement of a remake. Then, the film spent several years languishing in development hell before going before cameras, and then it spent yet more time sitting on the shelf before last-minute reshoots and changes were made for its release.

The end result is a thoroughly "meh" action picture, one that lacks the greatest draw of the original - that dark, foreboding tone and focus on character that made the original feel more like a nightmare than an action picture. Instead, this remake is just a straightforward action piece, loaded with gunfights and perfunctory attempts at character development. It's a film that feels impersonal and haphazard, standard instead of clever.

I don't usually try to compare remakes to the original so harshly; I try to let them stand on their own, but even if it wasn't based on a better picture, this version of "Red Dawn" wouldn't fare too well.

The highlight of the whole thing is the casting of Chris Hemsworth, who once again proves that he has charisma and action chops to spare. He gets what is easily the meatiest role in the film, learning to be an older brother and a leader to a group of children he must mold into resistance fighters. But although I call it "meaty" there's really not much here. Hemsworth does the best he can, but all the characters in this film are underwritten. It just helps that Hemsworth is just kind of awesome in general.

The rest of the cast range from decent to forgettable. No one else really does anything of note. Even Josh Peck as younger brother Matt mostly just has to act like a petulant sibling, caring more about rescuing his girlfriend (who ultimately gets all of about five lines of dialogue) instead of the mission. Even when that gets one of his friends killed, it seems like it takes little emotional toll on the other characters.

And that's really the failing of "Red Dawn." It's not that it has poor action sequences (they're not bad, but they're nothing special either) it's that none of it ever makes you feel anything. In the original, as the characters are slowly stripped of their humanity with each death or loss, you feel it. Here, the film just moves briskly from one shootout to another and it rarely feels like these kids are suffering at all. Worse, they become highly effective fighters unbelievably quickly.

Oh, and the villains? They aren't characters at all. They're just fodder, and not particularly frightening in any respect. The film doesn't even bother to try and make them interesting.

As a way to waste 90 minutes, "Red Dawn" isn't the worst film you could pick. But it's mostly inert.

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