Red Dawn Review: The Tipping Point for Lazy Remakes

There was a time, about eighteen months ago, when you couldn’t swing a cat without running into someone name-checking Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” theory (believe me, I tried, the cat was not pleased). People loved that Gladwell riff, they loved it so much they actually sort of lurved it. Why? Well, it was an easy way for folks to discuss change, and why we rarely saw it coming. Which is why I’d posit that the current “normal” of Hollywood, releasing fantastically awful reboots and hyping terrifically terrible retreads, is all about to change. Red Dawn is that “tipping point,” heralding a bright new era of innovation, even as 2012’s version of Red Dawn is over there in the darkened corner, finger blasting various farm animals.

North Korea has invaded America. BOOM! Did you notice what happened there? With that opening sentence, Red Dawn has already said “Screw this, I’m going out for a smoke”. We’re not even three minutes into the movie and we’re already in full-on “re-write’ mode. Now, when they started development on this project, the original occupier was slated to be China (taking the place of The Ruskies from the 1984 original). And then some studio exec had a brilliant idea. Did it matter if it was plausible? Was there an intern available for even a cursory Google search (which would have revealed that the US outspends North Korea by at least a factor of 7000x on military hardware)? Or that the average North Korean is around three inches shorter than the average South Korean, simply due to a poor diet from birth? Naaaaah, no worries bra, let’s just cast some names and get this actioner out in theaters. The people will guzzle it up!

How silly is the choice of North Korea as an adversary? Here’s an excerpt from “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic. So it was for Mi-ran. What she didn’t realize is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990s alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring. In time, Mi-ran would learn how to walk around a dead body on the street without paying much notice. She could pass a five-year-old on the verge of death without feeling obliged to help.

So yeah, it would be hard to claim that Mi-ran was “loving it”. That’s one paragraph I picked of that book at random, but the whole thing is lousy with starving North Koreans. Plus, keep in mind that the book is subtitled “Ordinary Lives” – which means we’re not even talking about North Korea’s poor people, probably because everyone is poor, and many more are just plain (Alert: medical term is about to be utilized) “dead from lack of food”. This is our “monster,” the Asian menace, invading idyllic Spokane, as North Koreans are wont to do … if we’re not vigilant.

Chris Hemsworth (as played by Thor) has recently returned home from a tour o’ duty in Iraq. He’s just looking to unwind, and perhaps score a bit of high school tail. Luckily, bombs start dropping over his quiet little town and his INSTINCTS KICK IN. Now, never you mind that Hemsworth is from the land down under (where women glow and men plunder). I’m not xenophobic enough (yet) to claim that an Aussie can’t play a true ‘Merican hero, though I’m starting to wonder if, during our quest for treasure, if we haven’t lost a bit of the “art” of Red Dawn? What’s that? They were never trying for anything meaningful, and thus should be excused from all expectations? A tough view, but a fair one.

His little brother, played by Josh Peck, is in high school, which naturally means the actor they cast looks about 24. Peck is mad at Hemsworth, sibling issues, we will find out more on this front later, but for now you’ll need to make due with speeches and scenes that go a little something like this:

This trailer is around 500 times better than the film, because the actual film lasts 90 minutes, and you can’t undo the psychic damage with anything short of a fifth of Jack Daniels. Didja notice the football scenes? Those were America. Didja notice The Space Needle? THAT IS AMERICA, TOO. But let me ask you a question, even about this trailer. At 43 seconds in, what do you suppose shoots that airplane down? I like to imagine it was a grandma who was sitting on a SAM system this whole time, but I have no proof, and the movie has no clue as to how it happened either. They needed that plane to go boom so the main characters could jump out of the way. An elegant equation!

The “training” of these Wolverines is, awesomely, handled via montage, which I believe is the same method they use for all soldiers nowadays. Hot chicks will be taught to fire bazookas, their Hollywood blonde hair flowing in the wind as they blow up hapless Pacific Rimmers, which, come to think of it, could very well end up being my proposed title treatment for this adult film I’ve been working on.

Logic and meaning are quickly stripped away as our precocious upstarts do battle against the bros from Pyongyang. Life is precious, except for the North Korean version, and war is hell, except for when you’re sharing a cold one with your fellow Wolver’s after a successful market bombing. A Subway shop remains open during the North Korean occupation, which is a seriously good thing, because it will be needed for product placement midway through the film. “When are you going to get it through your thick skull!!??” will be screamed without an ounce of irony. Fences will be mended, and the W-Rines will come together as a unit. And when they do, whoo boy, all 1.4 million members of the North Korean army will know what’s shaking, because it will be them, with their un-American faces, and their invading (but NOT raping or pillaging or anything that prohibits that crucial 14-17 demo from seeing this) occupation forces.

You see, Red Dawn is more of an idea than an actual film, and that idea is this: you will watch anything. Does it matter if they filmed the movie in 2009, and then held onto it for three years in the hopes that one day no one would notice how stupid it is? Nope. Does it matter that they switched out the “villain” from a nation that spends $144 billion on the military to one that can’t feed its own people? Not in the slightest. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if the words make sense, or if the edits are cohesive. All that matters is it’s on the big screen, it’s got a Hemsworth in it, and they’ll be charging you to witness the spectacle. I’m betting you won’t, and that we’re in the process of calling their bluff. Fool us 500 times, shame on us. Fool us with Ethnic Chinese CGI-morphed into scenes with North Korean flags, shame on them.

The intrepid few who survive the Red Dawn remake will demand that we put the system on trial, pleading that we must rebuild, in the process becoming advocates for better cinema. “Dead mom” won’t be the go-to plot point all screenwriters turn to in order to instill random faux tension. The guys who make futuristic shorts in which the New York Mets are a good baseball team will be ushered to the front of the class and given money. Kickstarters where guys get drunk and lay down some truth will carry the day. Out nation’s blondes will no longer be used primarily for launching missiles. It’s going to be quite a time, I tell you, an era of magic and wonder.

When that day comes, we will have truly earned the right to scream “Wolverines!” with the American flag trumpeting proudly in the background. Until then, we wait, ever vigilant.

Grade: F