“Red Dawn” might be one of the most bland, flat movies I’ve seen all year. Sure, I never expected it to be a masterpiece, but I at least expected it to have a pulse of some sort.
I’ve never been one to harbor a lot of love for the directed original, but it has its own charms for being a distinctive product of its era and it certainly benefits from the confidence and voice of being written and directed by a guy like John Milius. That said, the original looks almost like a masterpiece by comparison.
Milius’ original (which gets credited in the opening) played to America’s fears of Soviet aggression and had Russians invading the United States. Here, the action is transplanted from a small town in Colorado to Spokane, Wash. with the invaders coming from North Korea (with a little help on the side from the Ruskies).
This scenario is laughable and proof that we are, in fact, watching a bit of fantasy. The idea that North Korea could gather up enough troops and have enough money to successfully mount a large-scale invasion like this is borderline comical, although I guess it explains why they targeted an inconsequential dump of a town like Spokane.
It’s a little more plausible when you realize that the Chinese were originally to be the invaders. But once the studio realized that you can’t properly sell a film in China when they’re the bad guys, the film was shelved until all the enemy dialogue was dubbed and emblems and insignias could be CGI’ed over to look properly Korean. In the end, it wasn’t American freedom fighters that defeated the Chinese, but a studio suit’s fear of losing money.
Clearly we’re supposed to feel the loss once these kids start getting picked off, but I couldn’t even tell you their names, much less a single defining trait about any of them. The only reason we know anything about Matt and Jed is because we are told things about them. Everyone else comes off as borderline anonymous and the ones who die are promptly forgotten, never to be mentioned again.
This might have been somewhat assuaged had the film had any sort of point (thematically, narratively or otherwise) or even a sense of momentum or energy. Instead, it just sort of plods along until finally about two-thirds of the way through our motley crew becomes aware of some technological MacGuffin that’s never fully explained how obtaining it will turn the tide in the rebels’ favor.
What’s worse is that it’s around this point that we’re introduced to a trio of Marines led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan who immediately become exceptionally more interesting and engaging than the teens we’ve spent most of the film with. I guess that’s what happens when characters with actual personalities show up.
It’s when these Marines join the Wolverines that “Red Dawn” finally shows signs of a pulse, probably because there’s a semblance of purpose poking its head up through the wet paper bag that is the film’s script.
Perhaps most frustrating is how much wasted potential I saw in “Red Dawn.” The United States has never been invaded. What exactly would
an experience of that sort do to people who are used to only ever experiencing war and invading armies from the comfort of their living rooms? What sort of effect would being thrust headfirst into an insurgency do to teenagers whose biggest problems the night previous was sulking over not making it into the playoffs? Do they enjoy the killing? Are they sickened or perhaps even energized by it?
Josh Hutcherson’s character pukes a little bit after drawing first blood, but that’s about it. After that, everyone just sort of picks up a gun and mows down swaths of faceless enemy soldiers like it’s nothing. In the hands of a writer with vision, that would actually be part of the film’s larger statement. Here, it’s all handled so matter-of-factly that the violence barely even seems to register with these kids.
I know it’s a fool’s errand to expect a studio-dictated remake of an ’80s flick to have any sort of depth or nuance or thematic resonance, but it doesn’t make the thing any less frustrating.
*Credit goes to my friend Aubre Killman for that one.