The most striking thing about Red Dawn is not that it’s dumb, but that it’s unnecessary. And irrelevant. And makes no sense for 2012.
The movie is a remake of the 1984 film of the same name, which imagined a ground attack on the mainland United States by the Soviet Union, with average Americans rising up to beat them back. The premise was fantastic even at the time, but it came out of the era’s very real Cold War tensions, of a world with two superpowers competing head to head. People felt paranoid, and Red Dawn spoke to that paranoia.
Twenty-eight years later, there is no Soviet Union, so who might attack the United States and gain an immediate foothold on both coasts? The answer: North Korea. That’s right, in the new Red Dawn, North Korea finally makes its move and almost knocks us out with one blow. Scary, huh?
The rest of the world thinks of the United States as tough and borderline invincible, but Americans always feel just a little uneasy, a little vulnerable. Yet I doubt even the biggest geopolitical nervous wreck has spent much time worrying that North Korea might start landing ground troops in Spokane, Wash. And even the depiction of precisely that in Red Dawn — plus aerial bombing — won’t make that a popular nightmare.
So Red Dawn has its own absurdity to contend with. Then it has to contend with everything else. Chris Hemsworth — when is this actor going to catch a break? — plays a Marine, on leave back home in Spokane, who turns out to be a good man to have around in a crisis. One morning, the North Koreans arrive and start blowing up the neighborhood, and, curiously, no one reacts as one might expect. Yes, they seem distressed, but no one is shocked. Rather, they act like they were sort of expecting it but hoping it wouldn’t happen.
The Marine, with the help of a young lady (Adrianne Palicki) who would be his lover if only the Koreans would stop shooting long enough for them to take their clothes off, forms a guerrilla band of warriors. In no time, the guerrillas have machine guns. Then they have explosives, lots of them, though how they acquire them is never quite accounted for.
It should be said that Red Dawn is not repellent and sometimes isn’t boring. Any sequence in which Americans are trying to blow up, say, a building full of invading politicians and generals, has a certain built-in rooting interest, as well as a story interest: Will the bomb go off?
Unfortunately, the characters are so programmatic, the premise so ridiculous and the situations so far-fetched that no energy can be built, and the little that’s there can’t be sustained.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Josh Peck.
Director: Dan Bradley.
Screenwriter: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore
Producer: Kevin Halloran.
A Film District studios release. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language. Playing at: area theaters.