Director: Dan Bradley; Screenwriter: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore; Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki, Jeffrey Dean Morgan; Running time: 93 mins; Certificate: 15
"We inherited our freedom. Now it's up to us to fight for it". This dismal remake of the overrated '80s cult flick is littered with the type of nausea-inducing patriotic dialogue lampooned by the likes of Team America: World Police. If you turn up the volume loud enough, you can probably hear the bad guys muttering the North Korean equivalent of 'durka, durka' repeatedly.
Red Yawn (sic) does itself no favours by seeking to establish a contemporaneous framework that positions the daring premise, revolving around a sudden invasion of America by North Korean forces, as a plausible scenario. For we're bombarded with a wealth of genuine news footage at the beginning, featuring the likes of Barack Obama, Kim Jong-il and Hilary Clinton. Tapping into credible fears is fine, but don't follow it up with a plethora of dumb, highly unbelievable characters and ill-thought out scenarios that insult the intelligence of anyone patient enough to sit through to the bitter end.
The screenplay, which bears no wit or weight, involves a group of youngsters banding together to rebel against the foreign invaders of their town. They're led by young US Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), who must have emotional depth because he has a dead mother and he is openly sad about it. The script relays this relentlessly during the movie's opening section, through repeated dialogue and imagery of him looking at photos or the floor while clenching his jaw. This man is DEEP and has actual thoughts, folks. His mother is DEAD.
Of course, the moments when Jed's not furrowing his brow in explicit grief are either spent spouting chest-thumping jingoistic speeches, indulging in some mandatory romantic intrigue through flirtatious glances, or generally being a po-faced berk. The nadir comes when he kills a deer and tricks the teenage rebel Robert (Josh Hutcherson) into drinking the slain animal's blood for a laugh. Berk.
A lot of car chases and gun battles ensue, with the ease at which the novice young rebels strike against the opposition suggesting that Inspector Clouseau now has a job as the North Korean army's Head Of Security. This is especially the case given how much of an incredulous coup it was for their forces to stage the airborne invasion, which takes place in broad daylight, in the first place. In fairness to director Dan Bradley, he handles these scenes efficiently and they do bear a decent degree of visceral impact.
It's a shame Bradley fails to grasp the importance of establishing the geography of the small-town setting, as imbuing audiences with a sense of spatial awareness greatly helps such location-dependent movies. Yet the failure to devote time to this is entirely consistent with the sense of 'fast-forwarding' that wrecks many other elements, particularly the rushed characterisation that fixates on one trait in order to distinguish the personnel from each other. For example, our first encounter with Robert simply reveals that he makes podcasts. By this movie's logic, he must turn out to be an awkward nerd who can't fire a gun properly and throws up when he sees someone killed. Podcasters, eh?
The final part of the film, which culminates in a messy shootout, features the arrival of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's grizzled soldier Tanner on the scene. He quickly hooks up with the teen rebels and mutters the words "this is about to get interesting" under his breath. Ah, could this be an engaging twist on the horizon? Could Tanner be possessed by the spirit of Kim Jong-il and be intent on feeding the rebels to a tankful of sharks? Is he a sex offender? Could he even be a well-disguised podcast aficionado? No. There is no twist.
Red Dawn gives us very little reason to care for the protagonists or despise the antagonists, opting to spend its mercifully short duration dwelling on inconsequential shootouts and solemn flag-waving patriotism laced with painfully triumphalist music. Such a bold premise would have instead benefited from a treatment that foregrounded the escapist element of the tale and presented appealing and credible rebels to root for instead. Or at the very least, some kind of Expendables style self-awareness of how dumb and disposable it is.