5.5 out of 10
‘Red Dawn’ is pretty much what you would expect from a remake of a 1984 action film with a good plot and poor execution. You basically get the same movie. The concept of a foreign country successfully invading the United States while a small group of high school kids use guerilla style fighting tactics to wreak havoc against the invading forces is a pretty cool idea. But, just like the first time around, this remake lacks in the execution. Much of the acting and cinematography leave a lot to be desired. Still, the movie manages to get a few things right.
Red Dawn is cheesy fun with a few nice emotional moments. With some better acting and cleaner shooting, this film could have been something special.
Any spoilers will be clearly marked so you can avoid reading them if you so choose.
Red Dawn opens in Baltimore on November 21, 2012.
The one saving grace in the original film is also the one thing that helps this remake, the story. The idea that a foreign country could so easily invade the United States seems like it should be in a science fiction film. For that very reason it is one plot that has not been used a lot in movies. The other obvious reason is the fact that we do not like to see ourselves as vulnerable, so we tend to shy away from things that make us appear to be. Put all that together and you have yourself an idea for a cool movie.
This modern version of Red Dawn does make a couple changes for the better, the main one being a decent trimming down of the runtime. The 1984 film tipped the scales at nearly 2 hours, while this remake was just over 90 minutes. Some of the fighting montages were reduced and the number of character interaction scenes was wisely cut back. The pacing this time around fit much better.
The action scenes are well done and present a nice blend of improvised tactics and, of course, some dumb luck. They actually felt pretty realistic, as if you could feasibly see a group of desperate teenagers pulling off these feats. There are also a number of emotional scenes that do hit the mark and some nice levity to break the tension from time to time. Overall, it was a good blend and nice balance.
Years ago there must have been a very important person in Hollywood who saw the ‘shaky cam’ technique, fell in love with it and promoted it with his/her stamp of approval. Now, all the filmmakers feel like they have to abide by this person’s wishes and continue to use this horrific style of filmmaking. It makes less than no sense and it is horrendously annoying. Red Dawn uses a lot of shaky cam and some of the best fight scenes are pretty much one long blur.
Hollywood, knock it off!
The worst part of being a film critic is being critical of a young actor in one of his/her early roles. Josh Peck, who is mostly known for TV shows and voiceover work, plays one of the main characters, Matt Eckert. Sadly, Josh does not do a very good job with the role. There is no real emotional connection to him at all when he should be one of the main connections. It is as if he is trying to do a ‘tough guy, Christian Bale Batman’ impression voice half the time. When he is about to cry, the audience is about to laugh. Casting would have been better if they had Peck and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) switch roles. Then again, word on the streets is this film was finished a number of years ago and sat on the shelf, so Hutcherson may be a much bigger star now than he was at the time they filmed this movie.
The Bottom Line
In a 90 minute film you do not have a lot of time to make mistakes and then recover from them. The shaky cam style killed probably 80-90% of the action scenes and a poor performance from one of the lead characters destroyed a lot of the emotional connection and flow of the film. If the movie was absolutely terrific in other areas these things may not have been so damaging. But, as it sits, Red Dawn is you average action rental. There is enough to enjoy and you won’t feel like you wasted an hour and a half of your life. But please don’t spend much money on this one. Go see Skyfall or Silver Linings Playbook if you are looking for a night out. Save this one for a rainy night on your couch when there’s no football or basketball on TV.