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Dan Bradley’s remake of the ’80s film “Red Dawn” didn’t exactly have an easy road to theaters. It spent years on the shelves, and I suspect that at one point the studio was almost willing to dump it onto DVD with no promotion just to be rid of it. Then something weird happened — the kids in the movie got famous. Really, really famous. There was Thor and the kid from “The Hunger Games”, and to a lesser extent, Adrianne Palicki of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and the doomed Wonder Woman TV show. So in 2013 we finally got “Red Dawn”, complete with a new villain in North Korea, digitally inserted over the film’s original Chinese villains.
Here’s the thing: it’s not really as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, there are moments when the film is downright entertaining. There is almost no set-up to speak off — Marine Jed (Chris Hemsworth) returns home, fresh from fighting wars overseas, only to get caught up in an invasion of the homeland by North Korea. Really, that’s it. One second Jed is watching a football game, sleeping on his dad’s couch and bickering with little brother Matt (Josh Peck), and the next morning invaders are parachuting into their neighborhood and shooting people. And we’re off! Honestly, that’s basically all the set-up you get here, with the rest of the film focused entirely on the kids and their little corner of the universe.
Jed and Matt end up at their dad’s cabin, where they regroup with other kids from town, including Matt’s girlfriend (Isabel Lucas), an A/V nerd (Josh Hutcherson), the hot girl (Adrianne Palicki), and the token black kid (Connor Cruise). Jed gives a rousing speech about fighting back, kinda like the insurgents he used to fight overseas (ironic, no?), and pretty soon the kids are launching guerrilla strikes against the North Korean invaders with ridiculous precision and effectiveness. They’re also vexing the North Korean commander (Will Yun Lee, a Korean actor originally hired to play a Chinese character, but is now playing a Korean character — more irony!) in charge of their area, who doesn’t quite “get” these crazy kids and their Wolverine graffiti. Frankly, he would be better off questioning the logic of invading a big ass country like America, but whatever.
If you were to overlook the bad plotting and at times cringe-worthy dialogue, “Red Dawn” has a lot to offer those just looking for a good time. It’s incredibly action-packed, and though there are attempts at bonding (particularly between the two brothers), most of it gets lost in the blast of gunfire and explosions anyway. Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up in the Third Act to help the kids get their hands on a MacGuffin from the bad guys, leading to the film’s signature battle inside a police station. At times “Red Dawn” delivers on its promise of gritty action (especially a completely out-of-nowhere character death), but it does take great liberties with some of the earlier battles. These North Korean soldiers SUCK. The villains are never given much of a chance to talk other than to run around shooting civilians and looking pissed off at the Wolverines’ mounting successes.
The film makes zero sense, but then again, that’s to be expected when the producers sold out their art for the sake of adding a few bucks to the coffers by digitally swapping a credible villain with one that makes as much sense as America being invaded by, say, Puerto Rico. The film failed to find an audience at the box office, making $45 million from a $65 million production budget. As of this review, “Red Dawn” has yet to open in China (according to BoxOfficeMojo.com). Since it’s been months since the film opened Stateside, I wonder if it ever will. Which, yes, would be hilariously ironic if China decided not to allow the film to screen, given all the concessions the producers made just for that privilege.
If you plan on buying “Red Dawn” on either DVD or Blu-ray, you’re pretty much buying it for just the movie, because the Blu-ray Combo Pack that I saw came with no special features. Nothing. I mean absolutely nothing. No featurettes. No audio commentaries. Hell, they didn’t even bother with stuffing in a trailer or two. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a Blu-ray packaging that didn’t at least include something. I guess they’re saving it all for the “Red Dawn” 20th Anniversary Special Edition … or something.
On the plus side, the Blu-ray looks nice, and the sound is crisp and clear. So there’s that.