Film Review: Red Dawn

Red Dawn is a remake of the 80’s classic (?) and I think it mostly does what it sets out to do, blow stuff up and keep things moving forward at an entertaining pace.

The original is by no means a great film, but it is a pretty great premise, though sadly I don’t think either film succeeds at taking full advantage of this great idea of a foreign invasion.  The North Koreans, along with Russia, have invaded the United States and have begun occupying strategic choke points around the country.  Our story is focused on the smaller city of Spokane, Washington and a group of teenagers who live in the backwoods around the town, wreaking havoc on the occupying forces.  Our lead is an active duty soldier, played by Chris Hemsworth, who gets stuck “babysitting” a bunch of high school kids and he decides to turn them into a lethal terrorist force against the North Korean forces.

I don’t think the film takes itself all that seriously and it is all the better for it.  We want to get to the action and the film doesn’t disappoint for the most part.  Things are mostly episodic in nature as the pacing tries its best to never let up. We open with a very marginal amount of character development, what boys like what girls and that said boys have a police officer for a father, and then, the North Koreans are coming. Sure the movie could have been better suited by knowing more about our characters other than who their hormones are hot for, but, like I said, the film isn’t terribly concerned about all that stuff.

Sure they pay lip service to the brotherly relationship and the good of the group, but it’s all rather clichéd and paint by numbers.  Director Dan Bradley is a long time stunt guy, this is his first directing gig, and you can easily see his focus was on the action segments of the film.  He does squeeze in a couple of decent character moments, mostly with Palicki and Hemsworth, but mostly the narrative is let’s get to the next set piece. Thankfully the action is more than competent as we move through a series of attacks the Wolverines pull on the North Koreans and eventually vice versa. A lot of the action is told through extended montages, but there are a pair of extended set pieces towards the latter half of the film that are rather well assembled. I even have to give the film some props for surprising me on a couple of occasions.

I will warn certain viewers though, if you are a nitpicker for logic you might as well just skip this one. How do they learn to be such good fighters? Give them a montage. How do they get in and out of town so often and easily? Never explained. Why are the North Koreans so easily infiltrated? “They don’t want to be here.” Who are all these other kids in the Wolverines? The film never really gives them a second glance. These are only a couple of the things you can hold against the film, and I’m sure many viewers will pick out many more, but for what it lacks in character and plot it makes up for by just getting to the point and avoiding most needless filler. The film never drags, doesn’t try to be more than it is, and keeps the tension and thrills coming from start to finish.

I still feel like there is a great movie to be made around a foreign invasion and this film briefly gets off to an epic start before narrowing its focus considerably. Instead of seeing how an invasion like this would play out for the common people we are almost exclusively spending time with the Wolverines. Staying with the people of Spokane a bit longer would not only have been rather affective it also would have certainly raised the stakes for the film. Instead, the film’s drama ultimately hinges around a radio device we never see used and it feels like a big missed opportunity for some emotional resonance.

The young cast all do a fine job in the picture with Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson being the real standouts. Hemsworth is a fine leader and Hutcherson brings a sense of comedy and fun to the picture that helps lighten things up on more than one occasion. Jeffery Dean Morgan shows up and is as solid as he ever is late in the film, but he feels entirely tacked on and unnecessary. Adrianne Palicki is also likable and brings the sex appeal they were looking for, while Josh Peck seems to be trying a bit too hard at being a douche on a number of occasions as the group screw up. The rest of the cast is serviceable and it’s a shame they seem to only really be here to fill a diversity quota; we never get to know any of them.

Red Dawn is by no means a great movie, but it is fun and easy to watch. Fast pacing, solid action and a likable cast make this a light and simple film to swallow that will play great on cable for years to come. I don’t know if you should rush out to see this one in the theaters, but if you need a quick action fix Red Dawn is a painless and often fun distraction.

Red Dawn is a C

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