'Red Dawn': remake as laughable yet better

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceNovember 21, 2012 

RED DAWN

Josh Peck, left, Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth fight North Korean invaders in Red Dawn.

RON PHILLIPS — Ron Phillips

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'Red Dawn'

    3 stars out of 5

    PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language. FilmDistrict. 93 min. Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.

Red Dawn is a lot funnier than you remember.

This remake is based on 1984's Reagan-era rah-rah movie about rural footballers who run Russian invaders and their Cuban and Nicaraguan surrogates out of America. The new Red Dawn is about what happens after the North Koreans invade.

Stop laughing.

A news montage under the opening credits does all that any Red Dawn could ever do to make this plausible. Yes, the North Koreans have a huge army and a government bent on creating global chaos. No, it won't help the movie to worry about how they could transport that army to the Pacific Northwest.

That's where Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave, visiting his widowed police chief dad (Brett Cullen) and quarterback younger sibling Matty (Josh Peck), when the paratroopers tumble in.

In a jerky and jarring shaky-cam escape sequence, the Eckert brothers and assorted friends and hangers-on — the tech nerd (Northern Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson), the mayor's son (Connor Cruise), other jocks and cheerleaders — head for the mountains, where they plot America's comeback.

The original Red Dawn was co-written and directed by John Milius, a primal-violence primitivist and true believer when it came to the Soviet menace. His movie had a scruffy, lived-in Friday Night Lights-meets-Lord of the Flies aura: rural kids comfortable with guns improvising their way to getting comfortable shooting Russians and Cubans. The new Dawn has the Thor-size Marine teach city kids insurgent warfare. Not better, just different.

The original film was weepy — ex-jock Patrick Swayze mourning his father (West Irvine native Harry Dean Stanton). It had Jennifer Grey risking her neck and dying a good death. Here, it's mushy-centered self-absorbed Peck trying to free his imprisoned cheerleader girlfriend (Isabel Lucas). The new Dawn doesn't have the moist-eyed heart that a true believer might have given it.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the real soldier who stumbles into their midst (Powers Boothe in the original). Will Yun Lee is the hapless North Korean captain chasing these "Wolverines," insurgents who take their high school mascot's name into combat.

It betters the first film with every fire fight, every improvised explosion.

It doesn't pay to think too hard about how what happens, happens. If you need a villain, sometimes you have to build him up to make it seem plausible.

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