Of all the ’80s films to remake, you may ask (as I did to thin air upon first hearing about it), why 1984’s Russia-invades-America thriller Red Dawn? It was a film of its time. Russia hasn’t been a threat for years. There’s no reason for a redo. Fortunately, the suits at MGM don’t really care what we think, as this new version proves to be a surprisingly well-crafted piece of action entertainment.
Shot back in 2009 but only released last November due to MGM’s perennial financial woes, it casts North Korea as the invading foreign power and changes the setting from Colorado to Washington State, where a ragtag group of high-schoolers, led by the Marine-trained older brother (Chris Hemsworth) one of the kids, wages guerilla warfare against the invaders, led by Will Yun Lee.
From the very start, you can tell this is one efficient action flick. The opening amalgam of news footage succinctly sets up why we’re being invaded, we get maybe ten minutes of characters and personalities being established and then, BANG, we’re off as a vibrating snow globe cleverly heralds big danger and we see enemy planes and parachuting enemy soldiers filling the morning sky.
Sure, the premise is more than a little ridiculous, but never does the action itself feel cartoonish. As directed by former stunt coordinator Dan Bradley, the numerous sequences are tense, exciting and visceral (as visceral as PG-13 will allow, anyway), not to mention coherently edited, with the highlight being the big showdown in the town’s former police station.
The really big surprise here, though, is the acting, namely by Hemsworth, who was unknown when he was cast but now is king of this particular mountain, and not just because he’s the closest thing it has to a box-office draw. He impressively radiates an easy, natural confidence, and is perfect as the leader, letting the kids know in no uncertain terms that fighting back ain’t gonna be easy.
But he also impresses with the more emotional moments, as when he pleads with his younger brother (a slimmed-down Josh Peck) that he really needs him in this game. And Peck responds in kind, doing very solid work as a kid whose loner attitude threatens the group’s efforts, in particular when he purposely botches a crucial mission in order to rescue his cute girlfriend (Isabel Lucas).
Everybody else, including Lee, manages to register just enough that we at least feel something for them. Hunger Games actor Josh Hutcherson is good as the nervous nerdy kid who overcomes his healthy aversion to killing, while, as his best friend, Connor Cruise (Tom’s real-life kid) acquits himself well enough, and Adrianne Palicki looks great as Hemsworth’s love interest.
And the proceedings get a big boost by the third-act arrival of a trio of Special Ops soldiers led by the ever-reliable Jeffrey Dean Morgan, assuming the role Powers Boothe played in the original. They catch up the group, and us, as to what’s happening in the rest of the country, and bring some humor, helping gloss over the timely fact that we’re basically watching kids play with guns. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 3/5/13