Ambiguously Asian Invasion

The ‘80s ushered in more than a few admirable things: Ferris Bueller, shoulder pads, MC Hammer and, of course, insurgent teens enacting guerilla warfare in 1984’s propagandizing cult classic “Red Dawn.” To say a band of teenagers can defeat an invading military force may sound ludicrous at best, but first-time director Dan Bradley plays off this insurmountable notion by giving his own version of “Red Dawn” a shot at misinforming a new generation. After being shelved for two years due to financial trouble at MGM and undergoing a last minute Chinese-to-North-Korean CGI makeover, Bradley’s directorial vision resurrects a cult classic that never asked to be rejuvenated — then again, when are remakes ever asked for?

Keeping the same skeleton as the 1984 version, screenwriters Carl Ellsworth of “Disturbia” and Jeremy Passmore revolve the plot around a North Korean (as opposed to the original’s Soviet) communist invasion of the United States in the west-coast town of Spokane, Washington. Chris Hemsworth plays his usual alpha-male persona as returned Iraqi war veteran and son of a cop, Jed Eckhert, who along with football player and lovelorn younger brother Matt (Josh Peck of “Drake & Josh”), band together a group of rambunctious teens and former middle-aged marines in order to defeat the communist occupiers. Robert (Josh Hutcherson), his best friend Daryl (Connor Cruise), token badass Toni (Adrianne Palicki), along with the company of others, serve as a conglomerate of flat characters (with the exception of Peck’s Matt) that work to advance the plot and not much else. Their insurgent posse, the Wolverines, carry out missions of mass destruction and assassinations in the attempt to take back their city.

It takes no time for Bradley to insert his overwrought special effects and diluted plot devices when North Korean paratroopers invade Spokane within the first 10 minutes of the film. Broad multi-camera angles showing the action in its entirety allows the viewer a bigger and much more extensive picture of the invasion, giving it an apocalyptic war vibe before Bradley immediately regresses to his stunt coordinator days working on “The Bourne Legacy.” In an attempt to include the viewer into the action, Bradley then begins filming shaky eye-level action shots reminiscent of “Paranormal Activity” sans the ghosts. Jed, Matt and company’s attempt to outrun the North Koreans in a volatile and crash-heavy car chase keep your pupils moving rapidly with the need to refocus every split second. These shots effectively allude to chaos, but add nothing more than viewer disorientation. The action is rushed, and not solely because of its prevalence in the script, but because of the overwhelming nature in which it was filmed.

Puzzlingly, or perhaps fittingly, the reason behind the invasion is never quite known, which in turn makes the North Korean invaders (who, again, were Chinese before post-production) nothing more than evil tyrants without a story or a motive.

Peck and Hemsworth are the only characters given dynamic qualities and a chance to grow through the film. The casting of Hemsworth as a masculine marine is warranted, and thus he commands a strong on-screen presence. On the other hand, Peck delivers an unconvincing performance. Peck’s apathetic portrayal of an overly concerned brother and boyfriend is drowned by the use of clichéd lines and languid facial expressions that diminish any believable on-screen chemistry between him and his brother. The heartfelt exchange in which Hemsworth attempts to apologize to Peck for walking out on the family is minimized by Peck’s consistent whiny and know-it-all nature. Though his character deserves some credibility for delivering the most human performance, his screen presence during the dramatized scenes makes his character seem unlikeable, awkward and obligatory.

As far as clichés go, this film is an action creation made for action’s sake. What the movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in ass-kicking, bomb-blasting, bullet-shooting hoopla. But it is essentially one damn distraction after another. Silence is never truly welcomed, fire is given excess screen time and blood is almost non-existent, which is what makes this movie marketable to a wider audience. Politically speaking, this version of the original will always tread behind its predecessor and will eventually get lost in a sea of other high-cost action motion pictures without the envelope-pushing iconicity the original was able to give. This film is all about the stunts and explosives and not at all about its politics. It’s a flash in the pan; so keep those sunglasses on until its time for the next movie you’ll eventually forget about.

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