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RED DAWN – The Review

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If you’re anything like me, the first thought in your head when you heard about the remake of the 1984 classic RED DAWN was to shrug it off thinking “whatever.” Then, as the film is completed and nearing release, we hear that instead of being invaded by the Russians like the original — which is entirely understandable — or, as a way to update the story, invaded by the Chinese, which was the original plan, it turns out we’re being invaded by North Korea. Exactly. My first thought was… [scoff] “Yeah, right. How does that work?”

[Biting my tongue...] As it turns out, it works rather well. Surprised? I am. RED DAWN (2012) is, structurally, more or less loosely the same film as the 1984 original. I mean, when it comes down to brass tacks, both films are about the U.S. being caught off guard by a surprise invasion from a Communist enemy, occupied, then ultimately saved by a band of unlikely heroes. The difference is in the details. Instead of the Soviet Union, we’re invaded by North Korea… but, with some help from a couple of all-too-familiar [and previously mentioned] forces with a common goal. Nonetheless, the U.S. initially gets its ass handed to them, making the struggle to fight back all the more exciting.

Dan Bradley directs this modern retelling of the Cold War classic. Bradley is a stunt man with an extensive resume, stepping behind the camera as director for the first time. Its my theory that his time spent throwing punches, dodging bullets and taking falls are a significant factor in establishing the kind of realistic, modestly-paced action we get in RED DAWN. The film opens on a local high school football game, featuring the hometown Wolverines — from which the soon-to-be-realized American rebels get their name — and sets up the character profile for one of our two main heroes.

Josh Peck (THE WACKNESS) plays the star high school quarterback with an attitude, Matt Eckert, who must overcome his own selfishness and realize that in order to survive — ironically — he must learn to be a team player. Chris Hemsworth (THOR, THE AVENGERS) plays Matt’s older brother Jed, the more responsible of the two and a Marine on leave. Isabel Lucas (IMMORTALS) plays Erica, Matt’s sweetheart who is both the driving force for Matt’s fight against the invaders and the potential undoing of their small band of freedom fighters.

RED DAWN spends just enough time introducing characters and setting up back story, then throws the viewer head first into the invasion. The title of the film is no random choice, as the Communist, or “Red” invaders parachute from a legion of bombers into the Pacific Northwest. In our case, we witness what unfolds in Spokane, Washington as Matt and Jed wake to find North Korean soldiers have quickly taken control of their town, complete with fully armed soldiers, military vehicles and a barrage of exploding houses throughout the neighborhood. What little CGI is visibly present in this film, appears during the initial takeover, but is done so with a sense of holding back, not to exceed any suspension of disbelief, but actually causes a noticeable sense of dread and patriotism in the viewer.

As the viewer becomes attached to certain characters and distrustful of others, the film leads us through this devastating turn of events without ever sensationalizing them. RED DAWN is a violent, sometimes graphic film, but is never gratuitous. The characters are written in a way that we care about them, we want to see them succeed, even the ones who clearly have their priorities skewed. Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, and Connor Cruise round out the primary cast, forming the core of the rebel Fighters known as the Wolverines. Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes a welcome casting addition as Col. Andy Tanner, a Marine pulled out of retirement in the latter half of the film.

At one point, RED DAWN actually pokes fun at itself, but does so innocently by allowing Matt to reveal how ignorant he is to the current state of world affairs. Despite the opening title sequence revealing a well-crafted and much appreciated montage of world news broadcasts and the like, Matt fails to grasp the scope of events leading up to the North Korean invasion when he asks “How is that possible?” This all becomes clear, not only for Matt, but for an otherwise potentially skeptical audience. In fact, the premise of this remake is perhaps even more realistic and terrifying than that of the 1984 original.

Unlike so many films that shove a sort of uber-patriotism down our throats, RED DAWN delivers an easily digestible dose of patriotic storytelling that pleases the pallet, while still succeeding and it’s primary goal of entertaining the audience. RED DAWN offers a strong story, but one that’s not overly complicated; a satisfying portion of realistic action that never goes over-the-top; and a decent helping of relationship side story to please the female perspective without overwhelming the rest of the film.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

RED DAWN opens nationwide in theaters on Wednesday, November 21st, 2012.

Hopeless film enthusiast; reborn comic book geek; artist; collector; cookie connoisseur; curious to no end

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