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Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘Red Dawn’ is if anything, entertaining

Red Dawn
Directed by Dan Bradley
Screenplay by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore
2012, USA

Jed Eckert (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) returns home from service in Afghanistan to Spokane, Washington. His father (Brett Cullen) is the sheriff in town, and his brother, Matt (Josh Peck), is the maverick high school quarterback. The morning after his return the family awakes to find North Korea invading. Jed and Matt and a group of high schoolers take off into the woods and quickly form a resistance group, dubbed the “Wolverines” after the high school’s mascot.

There is nothing unfamiliar about the Red Dawn remake. Even the rarely used American teens engaging in guerrilla warfare against an invading Eastern force plot device (one other instance comes to mind) fits snugly into the general disaster movie mold. There is fraternal bickering, inspirational speechifying, precisely two beautiful love interests, and otherwise wall-to-wall action. There’s no room for characters, only archetypes. There’s no room for dialogue, only exposition and inspiration. None of this is to say that the film doesn’t have its quaint charm, though.

Chris Hemsworth is reliably hunky and compelling, and much is owed to him for giving the film some heft. Josh Peck, too, does a good job in a more brooding, sensitive role and his relationship with his brother feels real and fraught. Expect to see more of him. The action, while far, far too shaky, is still exciting and occasionally thrilling, especially an early car chase sequence. And there’s certainly a guilty pleasure in imagining most of the United States being subjugated by a foreign body and forced to fight for their freedom. This would have been a really good movie to make some sort of incisive point about the natures of imperialism, terrorism, and freedom, but, aside from a nice speech from Hemsworth pointing out that contemporary Americans “inherited their freedom”, it doesn’t even come close.

Let’s be honest, though: there is comfort in cliche. Of course, whether these cliches are going to do it for you is a very personal thing. Red Dawn hits every beat right on queue, from small moments of quiet humor or romance to large moments of inspiring violence. And there are scenes of familial discord that feel charged and genuine–there’s just not enough character here to make them really affecting. Bottom line: Red Dawn isn’t very good as a film, but as a vessel by which filmmakers manipulate your animal impulses, it’s a good time. Go Wolverines.

– Emmet Duff

Fantastic Fest runs September 20th – September 27th.