- Rated PG-13
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All photos © FilmDistrict
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
s far as 1980s cult classics go, “Red Dawn” isn’t the most popular film of the bunch, but it is one of the few movies to receive a remake that actually makes some sense. Though the initial idea behind director Dan Bradley’s new version was to replace the Russian baddies from the original with Chinese intruders, after the film was shelved during MGM’s bankruptcy woes, Bradley smartly went back and changed China to the slightly more believable North Korea, which is about as close to a Cold War-esque enemy that this generation has seen. There’s still a large degree of fantasy surrounding the premise, but while “Red Dawn” is far from perfect, it’s a crowd-pleasing action flick that does John Milius’ original movie justice.
This time around, the story takes place in the small, Pacific Northwest town of Spokane, Washington. After the power mysteriously goes out one night, the city wakes up the next morning to discover foreign soldiers dropping down from airplanes overhead, with many citizens eventually captured and detained in a prison camp. Of the few that do manage to escape are Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt Eckert (Josh Peck), the sons of the local sheriff who enlist some of their fellow teenagers (including Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki and Connor Cruise) to rise up and fight back against the North Korean intruders. Jed has some experience as a Marine fighting in Iraq, but the rest of the kids are as green as they come, so he must train them to think and act like real soldiers if they’re going to have any chance at saving their quiet town.
It’s hard to beat the cast of the original (comprised of future stars like Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson), but the remake also boasts a solid group of young actors. Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson both fare well in roles that predate “Thor” and “The Hunger Games,” and although Connor Cruise (adopted son of Tom Cruise) doesn’t get a lot to work with, he shows promise. The only real problem with the cast is Josh Peck, who isn’t terribly convincing as the impulsive star quarterback and falls flat in many of the movie’s more emotional scenes. Thankfully, the film doesn't rely too heavily on the strength of its characters to move the story, but when your lead protagonist is as bad as Peck is here, it's pretty hard to ignore.
A lot of the movie’s success comes down to the excellent action sequences, and that’s where having a guy like first-time director Dan Bradley – who spent years working as a stunt coordinator and second unit director on a number of big films – pays off. He may not get the best performances from his actors when it counts, but the action scenes are never lacking in excitement, and they account for a large part of "Red Dawn." Granted, the movie is about as subtle as a chainsaw, but it doesn’t try to hide what it is either, and that’s what makes “Red Dawn” such an unabashed good time – a throwback to those silly but fun action films of the 1980s that’s been revamped for today’s audiences.