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Review: Red Dawn (2012)

Red Dawn (2012)

Directed by: Dan Bradley

Premise: A remake of the 1984 film. North Korea invades the United States and takes over a town in the Pacific Northwest. A group of young people form a resistance movement and begin waging an insurgency against the occupying force.

What Works: The actors of Red Dawn are better than the material they have to work with. Chris Hemsworth is believable as a Marine on leave when the attack happens. He becomes the leader of the resistance group and the actor does what he can to elevate the movie.

What Doesn’t: The stupidity of Red Dawn is overwhelming. The film gets off to a bad start with an incredulous premise; the idea that North Korea, a country whose military does not even possess a competent missile system, could launch an attack and occupation of the United States is too silly to take seriously. The filmmakers do themselves no favors by consistently making logic and continuity errors. Early on in the story, the North Korean army launches its attack by deploying a weapon that knocks out all electricity and disrupts all electronic devices. But the teens and their allies are somehow able to use flashlights, cellphones, watches, radios, and televisions. This kind of sloppy storytelling is par for the course in Red Dawn and it is evidenced by the picture’s many other filmmaking and storytelling problems. Red Dawn is a war film and it uses the familiar narrative structure of a ragtag squadron sent on an impossible mission. This story design has been seen in everything from The Sands of Iwo Jima to The Dirty Dozen to Saving Private Ryan to Inglorious Basterds but it has rarely been done as poorly as it is in Red Dawn. The whole point of this kind of story is the transformation of the collection of individuals into a coherent unit; it is about the group pulling together in ways that ennoble values like brotherhood, patriotism, and self-sacrifice. Red Dawn never accomplishes this. In fact, the filmmakers miss the most interesting part of the story: the transformation of the cast from soft suburban teenagers into hardened guerilla soldiers. The entire process is covered in a montage and it is indicative of another problem with this movie. There are a variety of war and action films. Some are quite serious and deal with the moral or political facets of combat while others are rollercoaster rides focusing on stunts and set pieces. The filmmakers of Red Dawn don’t seem to know which camp their picture ought to fit within. The movie is shot and presented as a serious piece like Saving Private Ryan but it is made with the intelligence of G.I. Joe. The filmmakers’ evasion of moral issues like killing in warfare or ethical matters like defending your country are distilled in two scenes: the teens ambush and kill a group of North Korean troops, showing about as much emotion over it as if they were playing Call of Duty, but shortly thereafter one of the teens is squeamish about killing a deer for food. This inconsistency is not a surprise given that the characters are not even stereotypes. They are teens with guns and as far as the filmmakers are concerned there is little else to understand about them or the story. Movies with flat characters can sometimes get away with it if they are sufficiently spectacular but the action scenes of Red Dawn are sloppy. The film employs the shaky, handheld camerawork that has become the default cinematic style of action films and the set pieces are shot and edited in ways that make the action impossible to follow.

Bottom Line: Despite Red Dawn’s ideological and narrative shortcomings, the film is more severely and fundamentally undermined by how stupid it is and how sloppily it is made. The film is so bad it treads on the parody of Team America: World Police but it is so uninvolving and so carelessly made that it isn’t even entertaining as a piece of pulp.

Episode: #417 (December 2, 2012)