It seems that Hollywood’s glut of remaking classic movies is over. They’re now deigning to tackle movies that weren’t very good in the first place, as John Milius’ propaganda cheese-fest Red Dawn gets the makeover treatment this week.
Filmed around three years ago but left to rot in a studio vault until Chris Hemsworth became famous as an Avenger, Red Dawn is the most crass Hollywood production in recent memory. Furthermore, in order to gain access to China’s massive movie market, the film’s antagonists were changed from Chinese to North Korean – as opposed to the original film’s Soviet Union – in post-production.
As an opening montage sequence demonstrates, this is a film desperately trying to cobble together a front of topicality; clips of famous political figures discussing the financial crisis and Kim Jong-un’s ascent to power are however too somber in tone, making this take feel more like a grimly self-serious propaganda piece rather than a gung-ho slice of curious if largely disposable entertainment like the (somewhat) more perceptive original.
Yes, the Wolverines – the revolutionary resistance group from the original film – return for this update, this time led by two members of the local football team, Jed (Hemsworth) and his brother Matt (a ludicrously miscast Josh Peck).
Along the way, they band up with a pair of agency-free hotties (Adrianne Palicki and Isabelle Lucas) as well as the local nerd (Josh Hutcherson) among others too bland to remember. When North Korea invades without any agenda to speak of, the kids must band together to save both their friends and their country – no, their home, don’cha know? – against the odds.
To its very minor credit, first-time director Dan Bradley’s Red Dawn is every bit the cheesy B-movie the original was, so with its awful visual style – a result of bargain basement visual effects and disorientating handheld cinematography – and cringe-inducing training montages, it is resolutely faithful to the original. Though Bradley serves up the occasional sliver of mildly amusing action, it mostly comes in fits and starts, rendered largely forgettable by the totally anonymous direction.
Outside of the gunfights, it’s all low-energy drama with far too much talking and spying that’s impossible to care about. Characters act without a scrap of believability, being perfectly composed seconds after seeing their loved ones get blown away, before quickly turning into ruthless killing machines. Plus, it never convinces for a moment that this invasion would plausibly occur, perhaps the biggest obstacle of all.
This would all be fine if the new Red Dawn had even remote aspirations towards camp; it’s instead totally po-faced as the actors struggle to delivers lines like “We’re living Call of Duty, and it totally sucks” with a straight face.
Get ready to guffaw when the most egregious product placement this side of an Adam Sandler film abounds once the Wolverines take shelter inside a Subway restaurant, which still happens to be open despite war having broken out. Josh Hutcherson addresses a server as a “Sandwich Artist™” before reminding the audience of every type of bread you can order at the establishment.
It all builds to a woefully jingoistic campfire rally that would make the NRA proud, ahead of the final showdown to steal a technological Macguffin that can turn the tide of the war, yet only happens to be guarded by around 20 inept North Korean soldiers. Though there’s plenty of whizz-bang action at the tail-end, almost all of it is haphazardly edited and therefore a chore to sit through. While it delivers one sure surprise at the climax, by that point it doesn’t really matter; we’re past caring.
Hollywood’s cynicism knows no bounds. They’re now remaking bad movies too. If you absolutely have to watch Red Dawn, stick with the original.
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