After North Korean paratroopers invade his hometown in Washington state, high-school quarterback Matt (Josh Peck) says, “North Korea? That doesn’t make sense.” Neither does much else in this jerry-rigged remake, which has been idling for three years, a victim of MGM’s money troubles.
In the original “Red Dawn,” a 1984 action flick starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, a group of high-schoolers escape invading Russians and form an underdog guerrilla army called the Wolverines. In the new version, Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) plays Matt’s older brother, a Marine recently back from Iraq, and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta in “The Hunger Games”) is their sidekick.
The film shouldn’t be compared to the original, because its teen target audience doesn’t care. Ditto on the film’s yawning credulity gaps: Average kids become hardened soldiers with weapons expertise in a matter of days; complicit townspeople funnel endless munitions their way; North Korea has somehow overpowered the entire United States.
The plot is too muddled and the characters too thinly drawn to carry the emotional punch necessary to overcome its flaws.
On the surface, there’s plenty here to satisfy a teen audience. The Wolverines ram enemy vehicles, rig bombs to skateboards and impress macho Marines with their awesomeness.
Director Dan Bradley, a former stuntman, knows how to stage an action scene, although a lot of it is difficult to see due to annoyingly shaky camerawork. And clumsy dialogue is buoyed by the unforeseen star power of Hemsworth and Hutcherson, both cast before their breakout pictures were made. Although Hemsworth doesn’t have Swayze’s effortless charm, his performance as the group’s leader is impressive, especially given the lame lines he must deliver. Peck, with his goofball nerd persona, and Hutcherson, who shows pre-Peeta warrior chops, should have switched roles.
In the original movie, the Soviet and Cuban forces effectively played on the real-life Cold War paranoia of the time. In the remake, the enemies were at first Chinese, but producers feared alienating audiences and investors in China, so they changed all related symbols and dialogue to Korean after filming wrapped. Regardless of which nation they’re supposed to represent, the invaders come off as not much more than cutout rifle-range targets.
Even with the high-octane provided by frequent car crashes, gunfire and explosions, the overall effect is as wooden as the single facial expression of Connor Cruise (Tom Cruise’s adopted son, who plays a Wolverine). If shootouts, bomb blasts and remorseless killing are all you’re after, stay home and play “Halo 4.”