North Korea supplies the bad guys in remake of 'Red Dawn'

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3D
Last Modified: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 - 12:55 pm

'Red Dawn' is a lot funnier than you remember.

This remake is based on 1984's Reagan-era rah-rah movie about rural footballers who run Russian invaders and their Cuban and Nicaraguan surrogates out of America. The new "Red Dawn" dispenses with a lot of that red-meat, Red-state "reds" scariness and settles into a solid if silly action picture about what happens after the North Koreans invade.

Stop laughing.

A brisk news montage under the opening credits, featuring snippets of stories about global financial collapse, rogue state cyberwarfare programs, Obama and Biden warning about this threat or that foreign policy challenge, does all that any "Red Dawn" could ever do to make this plausible. Yes, the North Koreans have a huge army and a government bent on creating global chaos. No, it won't help the movie to worry about how they could transport that army to the Pacific Northwest.

That's where ex-jock and now Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave, visiting his widowed police chief dad (Brett Cullen) and ball-hog quarterback younger sibling Matty (Josh Peck), when the paratroopers tumble in. "North Korea – it doesn't make any sense."

But stuntman-turned- director Dan Bradley doesn't sit still long enough for that to sink in. In a jerky and jarring shaky-cam escape sequence, the Eckert brothers and assorted friends and hangers-on – the tech nerd (Josh Hutcherson), the mayor's son (Connor Cruise), assorted jocks and cheerleaders – head for the hills to plot America's comeback.

"We inherited our freedom," preaches Jed, who literally towers over the others. "Now it's up to all of us to fight for it."

The original "Red Dawn" was co-written and directed by John Milius, a primal- violence primitivist and true believer when it came to the Soviet menace. His movie had a scruffy, lived-in "Friday Night Lights"-meets- "Lord of the Flies" aura about it – rural kids comfortable with guns improvising their way to getting comfortable shooting Russians and Cubans. The new "Dawn" has the Marine teaching city kids insurgent warfare. Not better, just different.

The original film was weepy – ex-jock Patrick Swayze mourning his father (Harry Dean Stanton), who had the best line not repeated here: "Avenge me, boys!" It had Jennifer Grey risking her neck and dying a good death. Here, it's self- absorbed Peck trying to free his imprisoned cheerleader girlfriend (Isabel Lucas). The new "Dawn" doesn't have the moist-eyed heart that a true believer might have given it.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the real soldier who stumbles into their midst (Powers Boothe played that role in the original). Will Yun Lee is the North Korean captain chasing these "Wolverines," insurgents who take their high school mascot's name into combat.

The remake matches the original in school spirit, cheerleading every ambush. It's a real crowd-pleaser.

And it betters the first film with every fire fight, every improvised explosion. Bradley auditions for a future "Die Hard" here. And passes.

Which is about where "Red Dawn" lands – a passing grade.


RED DAWN

★ ★

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Director: Dan Bradley

93 minutes

Rated PG-13 (sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language)

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