‘Red Dawn’ (2012) Movie Review

Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth in Red Dawn
Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth in Red Dawn
Photo: Open Road Films

People can smell a bad movie a mile away and walking into Red Dawn it was quite clear someone either forgot to flush the toilet or didn’t even want to touch the handle for fear of getting their hands dirty because this one is swimming in excrement.

Made over three years ago and finally plopped into cinemas following MGM’s financial woes, Red Dawn is the remake that never should have been. Unlike the 1984, Cold War-inspired original (which isn’t all that good either), times have changed to the point the plausibility of the film is immediately thrown into question. Even once you get beyond the ridiculous conceit and we’re introduced to the group of actors that will be leading this muppet show, there is very little reason to endure the duration.

In the original it was the Russians that were invading the United States, now 28 years later it’s the North Koreans, a decision that was reached after the film was originally shot with the invaders being from China, but through a bit of digital wizardry we learn Hollywood perceives the only difference between Asian cultures is the flag they fly. However, that’s a conversation I’ve already explored and will leave alone for now.

The plausibility of this so-called invasion aside — after all, had the film been even halfway decent I don’t think it would have really mattered — it’s almost as if Red Dawn went into production with absolutely zero consideration for the film that was being made. Why make this movie? Where is the intrigue? Does this film reflect our current political and societal environment? Is there fear of any kind of foreign invasion I am not aware of to the point our borders can be breached and paratroopers will descend on Eastern Washington with relative ease?

In short, why was this film made?

To ask that question and attempt to answer it after seeing the film would lead many to assume it was actually made this year rather than three years ago. Now co-stars Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson are household names with Hemsworth playing Thor in The Avengers and Hutcherson as Peeta in The Hunger Games. Considering the fear of foreign invasion is limited at best, one could only assume this is a movie solely targeting teen girls wanting to see their favorite “hunks” on the big screen. But are teen girls rushing out to PG-13 militia films nowadays and I just wasn’t aware?

That is what Red Dawn is. The North Korean army has invaded the United States and this film centers on a group of teenagers led by Jed (Hemsworth), a Marine on leave, who fight back against the invading force. Watching this scenario come together is as laughable as it sounds and even more so once the training montage begins, but it refuses to end there.

Product placement is wedged in with the subtlety of a fart in church as the “Wolverines” (the name they’ve given themselves based on the mascot at the local high school) raid a Subway restaurant and even go so far as to use the phrase “sandwich artist”, which must have been part of the deal. At the very least it’s a scene that gives the audience a laugh, but no scene is more laughable than Hutcherson on a rooftop yelling, “Wolverines!” over and over again with his assault rifle raised to the sky. The last thing Hutcherson will convince me of as an audience member is that he’s an “inspirational bad ass” and this scene is doing his future as a potential action star no favors.

Hutcherson, however, looks like an Oscar winner next to Josh Peck whose B-boy, “too cool for school” nature is so off-putting and unnatural you may as well have used a cardboard cutout for all the authenticity his performance adds to the feature. The picture would be better served with him performing fourth-rate rap battles in the background of each scene rather than playing the whiny, love-struck brother of Hemsworth’s character.

The only compliment I can give this film is to say it has some decent pyrotechnics, which is to say in terms Peck’s character would understand… “Yo! They blowed stuff up real good son!” Well, that, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan leading a trio of Marines alongside the middle school militia toward the end of the film prevent it from being an overall failure.

Red Dawn marks the feature directorial debut of Bourne franchise stunt coordinator Dan Bradley and in all likelihood he won’t be offered a major project any time soon based on the final product here. But he received no favors from screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore who couldn’t even muster together a satisfying ending after we endured 93 minutes of a movie that felt like three hours.

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