Chris Hemsworth as Jed Eckert
Adrianne Palicki as Toni
Josh Hutcherson as Robert
Josh Peck as Matt Eckert
Isabel Lucas as Erica
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Col. Andy Tanner
Connor Cruise as Daryl Jenkins
Edwin Hodge as Danny
Alyssa Diaz as Julie
Brett Cullen as Tom Eckert
Michael Beach as Mayor Jenkins
Will Yun Lee as Captain Lo
Matt Gerald as Hodges
Kenneth Choi as Smith
Ron Yuan as The Clerk
Directed by Dan Bradley
North Korea has invaded the United States and a group of high school kids from Washington State manage to escape the initial invasion and start a revolution against their foreign oppressors.
Whether or not you had any connection to the original 1984 movie directed by John Milius and starring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen and Lea Thompson, it’s hard to ignore the knowledge that this remake was shelved by MGM’s bankruptcy, having filmed so long ago much of the cast actually were still teenagers when they made it.
After an opening title sequence made up of recent news footage of North Korea including the death of Kim Jong-il–clearly done to try to make the film feel more current–we meet Josh Peck’s Matt Eckert, the town’s star quarterback who happens to be dating cheerleader Erica, played by Isabel Lucas. His brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth) is a former Marine returning from Afghanistan and we’ve barely met them before we witness hundreds of North Korean paratroopers landing on the town as the brothers and a group of high school students drive out of town to the Eckert family’s cabin in the woods where Jed trains them to shoot guns so they can fight back. They take on the name of their football team, the Wolverines, and start striking against the North Koreans in town.
That’s basically the exact same set-up as the ’80s movie and other than changing the villain from Russians to North Koreans, it doesn’t have much to offer except to throw in a couple of “Call of Duty” references whenever possible.
Peck is hardly believable as a quarterback, let alone as any sort of armed freedom fighter, so it’s weird to see someone like Josh Hutcherson taking a back seat with a supporting role that barely offers more than a line or two, despite having proved his worth as a leading man in the three years since this was filmed.
Director Dan Bradley, a former stunt coordinator, does a fine job with the action sequences which mostly involve the kids going into town with guns ablazing as they are blowing things up, but these moments are fleeting before we’re back into the woods for dramatic moments that immediately stall the film. The forest setting makes these scenes seem like we’re watching some weird alternate “Twilight” with Hemsworth and Adrianne Palicki’s flirting mere moments after someone is killed.
Apparently, the North Koreans aren’t as focused on taking over the United States or stopping the Wolverines as they are to do thing that might get Matt and his group angry enough to fight back against them. We’re not quite sure why they might be surprised that the Wolverines are so gung-ho to stop them after kidnapping Erica, but an hour into the movie, Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up as the leader of a group of renegade soldiers looking for the fabled Wolverines to help them, just in case the entire premise doesn’t seem ridiculous enough as is. There are other characters, most of them just there as cannon fodder to try and raise the stakes.
The film’s schizophrenic nature is exacerbated by the fact it feels like the whole thing was chopped together, which may be the case, since originally, it was written and filmed with the Chinese as the antagonists and in the time since filming, someone realized that the country who has all this extra money to finance movies may not want to see themselves depicted as villains. Who knows why the Russians show up to help the North Koreans later in the movie? It’s never explained, but last time we checked they were no longer Communist, so maybe that was left over from an earlier screenplay or was an attempt to pay homage to the original.
The movie’s biggest problem is clearly its script that includes unnecessary dialogue like “It’s Pete!” and “It’s your Dad!” in a scene not long after these characters were introduced, just in case the audience wasn’t paying attention or anyone else may have forgotten. A better director may have realized how unnecessary some of this dialogue was and how the exposition constantly destroys the pace established during the action scenes.
We continue to go back and forth between the woods and the town as the kids attack and sabotage their invaders’ plans and just as things are building to an exciting climax with the Wolverines staging one last attack on the camps where townsfolks are being held captive, the movie suddenly ends. We can only imagine that they were shooting this scene when MGM went bankrupt and decided to end it there and leave what happens up to the moviegoers’ imaginations, but man, is it a huge letdown.
The Bottom Line:
Dull and uninspired, “Red Dawn” may be one of the most worthless remakes in recent memory and this is coming from someone who didn’t hate Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall.”