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"RED DAWN"
(2012) (Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: An American town must contend with the aftermath of a surprise North Korean invasion.
PLOT:
Jed Eckert (CHRIS HEMSWORTH) is an American soldier who's returned back home from Iraq to his hometown of Spokane, Washington. While childhood friend Toni (ADRIANNE PALICKI) is happy to set eyes on him, neither his younger brother, Matt (JOSH PECK), the high school quarterback of the Wolverines football team, nor their father, Tom Eckert (BRETT CULLEN), the local sheriff, are too excited to see him due to events from years past.

They don't have much time for attempted reconciliation, however, as following a nighttime widespread power outage, they awaken to the sight and sounds of North Korean paratroopers and other military personnel invading their town. Jed and Matt immediately take off in their truck headed for the safety of the nearby woods, giving a ride to various teenagers, including Robert (JOSH HUTCHERSON) and Daryl (CONNOR CRUISE), the latter being the son of Mayor Jenkins (MICHAEL BEACH).

They're eventually joined by others, including Danny (EDWIN HODGE) and Julie (ALYSSA DIAZ), who Jed decides he must turn into guerilla fighters, all while Matt tries to figure out how he's going to free his high school girlfriend, Erica (ISABEL LUCAS), from a nearby internment camp. Eventually joined by Col. Andy Tanner (JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN) and a few other Marines, Jed and his young band of resistance fighters repeatedly strike the North Korean forces and thus draw the increasing ire of their leader, Captain Lo (WILL YUN LEE), who's determined to wipe out the Wolverines.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
While various experts and reports have long debated the ramifications of kids watching and/or listening to questionable TV shows, movies and music, there's little doubt that playing video games has one or more detrimental effects on them. If anything, it seems to put them into a trance where no outside stimuli can break their narrowly focused concentration. But beyond that and the couch potato syndrome (other than physically working out their fingers and a little bit of core exercise by leaning in, out and to the sides), there's the overall issue of what the violence is doing to them.

It's one thing to watch violence on TV or in a movie. It's entirely another when you're the person creating the violence. And I'm not talking about shooting asteroids or space invaders of old. No, I'm referring to the various first-person shooter video games where the goal is to kill other people, using a variety of weapons, nowadays in extremely graphic and often near photo-realistic visual ways and representations. Talk about desensitizing young minds about murder and such.

Granted, the vast majority of kids who play such games will not turn into mass murderers or psychopaths, but such exposure and active participation nonetheless can't be a good thing. That is, unless they end up hired by the U.S. military to control advance robotics such as the aerial drones from the safety of American-based control centers, far away and thus somewhat emotionally removed from the mayhem they're creating overseas.

It could also come in handy should, oh I don't know, the North Koreans suddenly invade America en masse with their military might, thus necessitating the need for some young and somewhat pre-trained teens to battle back. Such is the plot of "Red Dawn," a rah-rah action flick where, surprisingly, such video game "practice" is only briefly mentioned in a throwaway comedic line between two young characters.

Of course, such realistic training games weren't around back in 1984 when America was also invaded, that time by the Russians in the original "Red Dawn." With the Cold War long over, the filmmakers -- director Dan Bradley and screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore -- reportedly originally cast the Chinese as the bad guys for the remake.

But with some downtime (during MGM's bankruptcy issues in the late 2000s) to think it over, some powers that be decided that China is a pretty big and constantly growing movie market while North Korea doesn't usually contribute much to any film's foreign box office take. Thus, some reshooting, editing and digital effects morphed the Chinese invaders into North Koreans in time for this remake's long-delayed release.

They could have been Mexicans, Canadians or even the Freedonians and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. And that's because the film isn't great. Heck, it's not even good as most of the action scenes (which is what most viewers of this film will be wanting to see) are so clumsily shot (the shaky cam strikes again) and edited that it's sometimes near impossible to figure out what's occurring; the plot logistics don't stand up; and the acting is so-so at its best moments.

In full disclosure, I haven't seen the original film since its original release, so 28 years of other material passing through this noggin have clouded nearly all memories of it and thus any comparisons between the two pics are moot. That said, I understand it's something of a cult favorite among a fairly small number of moviegoers and starred the likes of Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson. But it's most notable for being the first film of its era to receive the then-new MPAA rating of PG-13. I'm not always accurate in movie predictions, but I can't imagine this one ending up being notable for anything.

The plot pretty much follows the gist of the first film, but moves the setting from the original's Colorado town to Spokane, Washington where -- following a massive power outage that turns out to have been from a cyber attack -- foreign paratroopers swoop in and take over. A small number of locals -- led by Chris Hemsworth's soldier character -- manage to flee into the woods, hide and then turn themselves into guerilla fighters. There are a few moments of uncertainty and awkwardness among the civilians turned soldiers (along with the requisite training montage), but this transition occurs too easily and quickly to be believable, especially considering the increasingly sophisticated military ambush tactics they manage to pull off with surprisingly effective precision.

Yeah, I understand it's all designed as a patriotic piece of military fantasy, and I grew up watching old WWII flicks with my dad (who served in the Navy then), so I'm right there in line with that mentality. But with so many veterans of recent duty (along with older Vietnam and Korean vets) back home, the flick easily could have replaced all or at least most of the kids with far more believable (and fully trained) adults to repel the invaders.

It doesn't help that Bradley -- making his feature directing debut after serving as a stunt coordinator and second unit film director for various pics -- simply doesn't make the action that exciting or gripping. While watching this unfold, I kept thinking of other war flicks where a small group of soldiers must make their way through enemy territory to achieve their goal. You know, pics such as "Saving Private Ryan" or even the far older but still great "Kelly's Heroes."

That latter pic had some fairly tense sequences, along with some decent laughs, something this film also attempts to pull off, but pretty much fails. In fact, it seems like it never manages to figure out its tone, resulting in it going from action to comedy to camp and back again, with the combination of those elements simply never gelling. As a result, we don't really care for the characters who are barely fleshed out, if at all, except by default as the victims turned underdogs. And beyond Will Yun Lee playing the North Korean prefect, the bad guys are anonymous faces (with a few similarly unidentified Russians thrown in for good measure).

While I'm guessing there is or likely will be a "Red Dawn" video game tie-in somewhere down the road, one can only hope that the effect it will have on its players is that they'll grow up and make a better movie than this remake. "Red Dawn" the 2012 installment rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 13, 2012 / Posted November 21, 2012


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