Directed by Dan Bradley
Written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore
It may be fitting for a movie about American teenagers rising up against an evil foreign military to be juvenile, but that doesn’t make Red Dawn any more palatable. This remake of the 1984 film best known now as the first to get plastered by the MPAA with a PG-13 rating, is dull and lifeless. It’s an inane bit of claptrap that wants very badly to be a flag-waving piece of First World jingoism, but winds up being a 90-minute slog through various action-movie tropes, notable only for its somewhat impressive young cast.
A pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth (Red Dawn was shot in 2009 but delayed because of MGM’s well-documented financial troubles) plays Jed Eckert, a Marine who’s back home for a few weeks in Spokane, Washington before he’s stationed somewhere else in the Middle East. He and his sullen, mopey younger brother Matt (Josh Peck) have the standard-issue sibling squabbling because Jed left town after their mom died a few years back. They’re forced to put aside their bickering when North Koreans literally parachute from the sky to take over their town, along with the rest of the country. Jed and Matt team up with a few other neighborhood teens and soon hole up in the nearby forest to create their own mini-militia, intent on taking the North Koreans down.
It would be an understatement to say that the premise of Red Dawn, both the original, about teenagers fighting off Soviets during the Cold War, or this remake, is absolutely ridiculous. But then, a lot of movies have ridiculous premises, like the one about a rich guy who dresses up like a bat to fight crime or that superhero movie about a guy who gets so angry he turns green. Red Dawn serves as proof that execution is what a movie lives or dies by. As directed by first-timer Dan Bradley and written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore, the Red Dawn remake is executed in amateurish fashion. Even if the script wasn’t so hamfisted and rushed, the direction would be enough to sink this movie. Still, it’s a little ironic that handheld camerawork, meant to alert the audience to something occurring that’s immediate and lively, is utilized so frequently in a movie that doesn’t have a pulse.
Because Red Dawn is primarily about teenagers squaring off against North Korean soldiers, there’s action aplenty. But the way Bradley and cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen shoot those sequences, no matter if it’s a desperate car chase or a shootout in a police building, obscures the action. It’s as if the camera got a mind of its own and before every major setpiece, decided to get jacked up on Red Bulls; the damn thing just won’t sit still. Red Dawn is immensely problematic, with its narrow-minded view of how the world works near the top of the list. However, the filming techniques employed by Bradley are the worst offender. You can’t get that invested in an action movie if the action never makes a lick of sense.
The script, which used to make the bad guys Chinese before Chinese officials reacted unhappily to the notion, is frustrating partly because it feels like the finished product is missing a lot of establishing scenes. Within the first 10 minutes, Jed, Matt and their friends are on the run, hightailing it to a cabin in the woods. (Suffice to say, of the two movies Hemsworth’s been in this year with such a domicile, The Cabin in the Woods is much, much better.) But we don’t know who any of the other people with them are. We can identify that one of Matt’s schoolmates is played by Josh Hutcherson, so he’s probably a good guy. Still, we can’t even relate to the other people in their group, called the Wolverines after a school mascot, because we don’t know their names. Hell, Jed and Matt might not know their names
And as novel an idea as a foreign invasion as seen through a small scale may seem at the outset, the further we get into Red Dawn, the less sense it makes. The characters actively shun hearing news from the outside world, making it so we don’t really know if anyone in California or New York is surviving or trying to fight back. Late in the film, a former Marine (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) alludes to the fact that it’s in the heartland of the country, not the coasts, where the fight rages on. But he says this in a state very near the Pacific Ocean, i.e., a coast. The more you think about the logistics of this movie, the quicker it falls apart.
Red Dawn is clearly intended to be a fantasy. What would it be like if the fate of free humanity was in the hands of spunky, spirited kids? Maybe in the middle of a fevered game of war you play with your buddies in the backyard, this sounds pretty cool. ‘Cause, hey, you get to fire shotguns and throw grenades and beat up the faceless enemy without any repercussions! The people behind this movie have the same mindset, thinking too small to consider or care about the massive effect such an invasion would have on the world. The camerawork is distracting, the script seems sloppy, but worst of all is that Red Dawn, for all its other faults, is immensely, sadly boring.
— Josh Spiegel