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Movie Reviews

Red Dawn

Red Dawn
Starring Chris Hemsworth & Josh Peck • Directed by Dan Bradley • Rated PG-13

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Neil Pond
November 28, 2012
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The bad news: We’ve been invaded. The good news: Kids are taking America back!

That’s the plot of “Red Dawn,” in which a small town in the Pacific Northwest, like the rest of the nation, is overrun by hostile foreign forces. Thank goodness for the local high school football team, the Wolverines, which sprints off the gridiron and heads to the hills to become a strike force of patriot fighters.

If that has a vaguely familiar ring, you’re probably hearing the distant echoes of 1984, when the original “Red Dawn” brought the same basic story to the screen. Back then it was Russians dropping into Colorado, not North Koreans taking over Washington state.

But the menace continues to be Commie red.

The 1984 movie starred a roundup of the decade’s young stars, including Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze. It wasn’t Shakespeare by any stretch, but it has held up relatively well in cold storage as a slice of gung-ho, Reagan Era, all-American cheese.

And it’s a practically a nostalgic masterpiece compared to this misguided remake.

I’ll leave the debate over the plausibility of a successful North American invasion by North Korea paratroopers to military tacticians and armchair generals. And there’s certainly drama to be found in a story about brave rebels anywhere fighting for their heartland. But this movie’s got some real problems beyond its basic premise.

Its star power is concentrated in Chris Hemsworth, who wasn’t a star yet when he took on the lead role of a young U.S. military vet newly returned to his hometown from a tour of duty in Iraq. He’d go on later to make the blockbusters “Thor” and “The Avengers” while “Red Dawn” underwent major tweaking.

When this “Dawn” was filmed nearly three years ago, the bad guys were Chinese. Its release was stalled when its studio, MGM, filed for bankruptcy, and producers had time to ponder the prospect of losing millions of dollars by offending potential distributors in China. So a new opening was created, dialog was overdubbed, scenes were re-cut, and the invading army’s identifying markings were digitally changed to those of North Korea. No doubt that created a real mess in the editing room.

Josh Hutcherson also had “Red Dawn” in the can before he started shooting his role as Peeta in “The Hunger Games.” The other lead actor, Josh Peck, may someday break free of the goofball, teen-sitcom stigma from his Nickeodeon “Drake and Josh” comedy series, but I’m afraid “Red Dawn” isn’t going to give him much of a career push.

Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette from TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) plays a hometown hottie who takes with surprising swiftness to the life of a resistance fighter. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Denny Duquette on “Grey’s Anatomy”) shows up mid-movie as a U.S. military militia commander who’s heard about the Wolverines (!) and seeks them out for their help.

The story stretches credibility at every turn. The dialog sounds like it was cribbed one line at a time from an action-movie build-a-script book (“It’s a good day to die!” “Show us your guns, girls!” “We’re the Wolverines, and we create chaos!”). Shaky-cam action scenes are so jarringly shot and edited they’re practically incomprehensible.

And, oh, the unanswered questions: Why have we been invaded? What do the Chinese---I mean, the North Koreans---want? Why does the Pacific Northwest look like Michigan? (Oh---that’s where the movie was filmed.) Why are some citizens (like the cheerleader girlfriend of Peck’s character) held in detention camps, and others allowed to go about their lives, shopping on Main Street and eating at Subway? And just how do you turn a losing football team into a teenage strike force of crack, bazooka-wielding guerilla warriors?

Perhaps they’ve been weaned on combat video games, on which the movie actually seems to depend for much of its dramatic structure: lots of blasting, little time for explanation, little hope for anyone who doesn’t like the taste of red meat, and characters that fall cleanly on one side or the other of the good guy/bad guy line.

In one scene, the young rebels, during a moment of exhausted repose in their hillside hideout, reflect on the things they miss. One says toilets that flush. Others mention pizza, hot girls, TV and videogames.

“Dude, we’ve been living ‘Call of Duty,’” says another. “And it sucks!”

Yes, it certainly does. And dude, come to think of it, you totally nailed it.

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