The army invading the United States in Red Dawn, an ill-advised remake of the campy 1984 original, was changed in post-production from Chinese to North Korean. With a few snips here, a few re-dubs there, the filmmakers re-edited and re-shot, fearful of offending China and its increasingly important movie-going market.
But why stop there? Can’t we blithely make any nation our enemy for a movie’s sake? Let’s try a version with Iran! And don’t we have reason to be suspicious of Sweden? Do we really know what’s in all those giant Ikea stores?
The ridiculous Red Dawn is the supreme example of Hollywood’s Cold War nostalgia, when the Russkies offered up an easy, de facto villain. Today’s terrorism paranoia, apparently, is too complex and too faceless for some. No, we need a clear-cut enemy. Do you have something in red?
The awkward updating of Red Dawn came after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which had produced the film back in 2009, went bankrupt. Not surprisingly, the market was weak for a film that reportedly cost $60 million to make and suggested modern China was the equivalent of Cold War-era Soviet Union. So the switch was made and distributor FilmDistrict picked it up.
Like the original, Red Dawn is about a band of high-schoolers whose hometown (now Spokane, Wash., instead of small-town Colorado) is suddenly taken over by parachuting foreign troops. With most adults locked up and military response not coming, the kids develop into a gang of insurgents, dubbing themselves the Wolverines.
Back in 1984, the kids were played by brat pack all-stars: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey. The film (the first PG-13 rated movie, incidentally) was grade-A ’80s kitsch, a movie that captured the imaginations of kids growing up amid Cold War fears.
The new Red Dawn has no such context. The implausibility is dizzying, all around.
The cast is centered on two brothers: the returning Iraq veteran Jed (Chris Hemsworth, the Snow White and the Huntsman star) and high school quarterback Matt Eckert (Josh Peck). They’re the leaders of the Wolverines, whose ranks include Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Adrianne Palicki (TV’s Friday Night Lights), Connor Cruise and Edwin Hodge.
From a mountain cabin and other woodsy lairs, they launch guerilla warfare on the occupying North Koreans. Director Dan Bradley, a former stunt coordinator, can mount a decent shootout scene, but doesn’t stage the action well, leaving scenes looking like they were set in the same few downtown blocks. Still, there’s no telling how Bradley had to alter his footage. (No one had it harder than actor Will Yun Lee, who, as the occupying commander, had to redo his lines in Korean.)
In recent years, home invasion movies have been made frequently, only with aliens. The appeal, as one of the characters in Red Dawn says, is that defending one’s homeland makes “more sense” in a time filled with indirect military aims.
But such fantasies — here played out by delusional teenage football players — are all the more dubious given that the U.S. was engaged in two (real) wars at the time of filming. In Red Dawn, Afghanistan and Iraq go hardly mentioned, replaced by a game of toy soldiers with make-believe foes.
Rated PG-13, 93 minutes.