In the summer of 1984, America was smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War. Less than a year removed from the harrowing The Day After on TV, some of us were sure the commie Russians could, in fact, launch an attack against us at any time.
So when Red Dawn hit theaters that August, it brought with it an inherent realism, and anyone who went to the theater to see Patrick Swayze and his buddies wage guerilla warfare against the Soviet and Cuban invaders bought into it instantly.
Red Dawn (the original) survives today as a classic film–not without its flaws, sure–but a classic nonetheless, and a harrowing reminder of a long-ago time.
These days, though, the world is a much different place, and whoever made the hideously ill-advised decision to remake (and modernize) Red Dawn, well… they apparently aren’t living in it.
After an almost comical prologue that explains how North Korea is an honest-to-goodness military threat, we watch as its paratroopers rain down on Spokane, Washington. (Side note: the remake was originally shot with China as the enemy, but realizing what a market China is for American films, the producers altered it in post-production to make North Korea the villains. There’s your first clue that this was a misguided project.)
Filmed in 2009 but shelved for three years after parent studio MGM crashed and burned, Red Dawn stars a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth as Jed Eckert, a Marine returning home on leave from Iraq. His brother Matty (Josh Peck) is the star QB for the local high school, and their dad Tom (Brett Cullen) is a police officer. When the invasion happens, Tom sends his kids to safety at their mountain cabin, along with a handful of their friends.
From there the rag-tag band of youngsters launch a counter-attack, using weapons they snag from the North Koreans. They’re an army of eight against the world (or so we’re meant to believe), but they do their damnedest to send a message.
Novice director Dan Bradley is a former second unit director with an impressive resume, including The Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone, but here he just can’t seem to pull all the pieces together to make a coherent (or, let’s face it, believable… or worthwhile) movie. While he does show flashes of brilliance, including all of the too-sparse battle scenes, it’s the quieter moments that doom him to failure.
Plus, he was seemingly unable to get any kind of buy-in from the better-than-average cast (which also includes Josh Hutcherson, who dazzled in The Kids Are All Right). To a person, all the actors seem to be shuffling through each scene in a hurry to just put this movie behind them.
The worst culprits, though, are screenwriters Carl Ellsworth (Disturbia) and Jeremy Passmore, who somehow manage to cram every bit of trite dialogue imaginable into Red Dawn‘s 93 minutes. And I imagine they realized halfway through the writing process that the entire plot just wasn’t going to work in the 21st century, so much of the script feels like a futile attempt to have everything make sense. Perhaps that’s why they also couldn’t decide how to end it.
Quite frankly, this may be the best example yet of why not to give older movies a modern re-telling.