Review: “Red Dawn”

The world has changed considerably from the 1980s culture that spawned the original violent cult classic “Red Dawn.” The story followed a group of American students embracing their nationalism as they fought a guerrilla war against Soviet invaders in Colorado. Seeing as it was the height of the Second Cold War in the early 80’s, a simplistic premise cloaked in jingoistic patriotism was easily embraced by the public. Still, even back then, it was recognised as being a dumb and often silly work.

80’s filmmaking titan John Milius brought his far right politics and love of firearms to bear in a story that has lasted better than other efforts of the time. That is partly due to a impressive cast of what would become brat packers like Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Grey. Mostly though it’s because Milius doesn’t do things by half, resulting in an incredibly violent and epic scaled bit of nonsense that embraced militarism to the extreme. Why use a pistol when a rocket launcher will do?

In comparison, Dan Bradley’s scaled back and contemporary remake is not only far less engaging, you’d be hard pressed to find a worse film this year. Poorly cast, badly acted, terribly scripted and horrifically directed, everything that could go wrong in a film does. Too dour by half, the film lacks the scale, ambition, conviction, satire and kitsch appeal of the original. Instead it’s amongst the most generic of action films, trying to please everyone and in the process appealing to no-one.

The ONLY cast member even approaching adequacy is Chris Hemsworth, the Aussie hunk’s charisma single-handedly stopping the film from entirely imploding in on itself. Masculine and determined, his Marine character is the only one who feels properly developed, well performed and pragmatic. In comparison there’s the greasy looking Josh Peck, a mumbling selfish prick who often endangers others with his stupidity. Peck’s character is terrible to begin with, but his performance is quite frankly the single worst acting turn I’ve seen this year – bar none.

Comparatively Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise and Isabel Lucas disappear into the background, same with Adrianne Palicki although she does get the odd scene which helps her stand out a bit more. She and Hemsworth also share a decent chemistry which we sadly never get any time to explore. The film does have plenty of time though for cheap recreations of famous scenes from the original, generic gun fights and hanging around in the woods with the various kids as they argue about what to do.

The project marks the first directing effort of Dan Bradley, a veteran stunt coordinator and second unit director who is mostly known for his good work on the “Bourne” films and his near rape of the Bond franchise with “Quantum of Solace.” Taking the big chair, the surprise here is that not only is his handling of the dramatic scenes poor, he seems to be distracted in the action scenes. This results in plenty of uninspiring sequences involving the kids being a nuisance to this oddly small invading force of North Koreans.

Ah, the Koreans. Originally slated to be an invading Chinese army, the villains were digitally altered in post-production to be sourced from North Korea. The resulting adjustments of the flags and dialogue creates its own plot inconsistencies and dubious reasoning. This stretches a story, already considerably lacking in any credibility, well past its breaking point. It’s not helped by the baddies themselves getting no development, something this incarnation of the story could have done more effectively than the original.

How this thing cost around $70 million I can’t even begin to fathom, it looks like it was done for one-fifth of that. For all its melodramatic kid antics, the Australian country town “Red Dawn”-esque invasion tale “Tomorrow, When the War Began” is a more enjoyable successor to the Milius original than this turkey.