Review originally published September 27, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Fantastic Fest.
"We'll need to be smart," Chris Hemsworth's handsome Marine on leave tells his young group of press-ganged freedom fighters. If only the screenwriters had listened to their own advice.
As Jed Eckert in the remake of 1984's "Red Dawn," Hemsworth leads Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and some other people in a campaign of asymmetrical warfare against an occupying force of invading North Koreans. (Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas and the handful of other actresses are mostly silent, but always look great.) One day, life is all football games and T.G.I. Friday's; the next, it's paratroopers, wiring up C4 explosives and machine-gunning checkpoint guards. Despite a fundamental breakdown of the only reality these kids have ever known, everyone seems to take to their new career as American Mujahideen. There are some sullen moments here and there ("You left us when Mom died!"), but, by and large, field dressing wounds and stealing briefcases with high-tech communications devices comes pretty quickly.
This would be fine, perhaps even "bad ass," as kids are wont to say, if this movie was, you know, fun. But it's not. The movie strives for realism, so its inane storyline will inspire vague interest at best and abject irritation at worst. Sensitivities surely vary, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who finds the imagery in the film racist, considering the movie is almost done before we meet a "good" Asian-American.
"Red Dawn" is one of those viewing experiences where you come away and think, "Where did the movie go?" There aren't that many run-and-gun guerrilla hits, yet those are the only scenes that cut above the bland drone of interchangeable characters doing a whole lot of nothing. Some of the kids have maybe three lines, which is more than the villains. Other than mean Captain Lo, who is blessed with a few malicious close-ups, the bad guys don't speak at all.
The movie really does all it can to prevent you from taking it at face value. Now, if North Korea really did align with other rogue nations and get backing from Russia to secure key sections of the Northwest, you'd think they'd be sharp enough to secure empty nearby buildings when the new Prefect was holding a rally. But no, our band of rebels are able to just waltz up makeshift Texas School Book Depositories time and again to kick off their heroics.
"Red Dawn" is one of the rare cases where a movie isn't just poor, it is inadvisable. It is even, perhaps, irresponsible given the current political climate. The meat of "Red Dawn" remains free of politics, which is actually a detriment to the story, but it opens with a montage of rock solid xenophobia and saber-rattling against Kim Jong-un, the young new leader of North Korea. It's almost preposterous enough to elicit laughter. Almost. The unfortunate thing is that some viewers may be naive to think that the movie's scenario is rooted in some sort of realism. While I like to look down my nose at such rubes just as much as the next guy, perhaps there are some large-ish budget movies that just shouldn't be made.
Listen, I love being inappropriate, but you have to earn it. This paint-by-numbers picture with false drama and middling action has next to nothing to justify its very existence. "Red Dawn," on a fundamental level, is garbage.