There was much to improve in the original version of “Red Dawn,” a simple-minded fantasy film about a communist invasion of small town America: the plot, which asked us to believe that Cuban and Soviet invaders would focus their attention on subduing the teenage population of a town with no military significance; the dialogue, which was hilariously wooden; the special effects (the bad guys tracked our heroes using a locator that appears to have been borrowed from a 1930s Flash Gordon serial); the acting (despite a cast of future stars such as Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, the original “Red Dawn” left the actors little to do except shoot guns and emote in their mountain hideouts); the production values (unseen artillery and aircraft shelled a lone tank in the middle of a vacant field with what appeared to be firecrackers). In fact, everything about the original “Red Dawn” had a childlike simplicity that made it endearing to audiences.
The plot of the new “Red Dawn” mimics the original in most respects. Members of the Wolverines, a high school football team, refuse to surrender to or collaborate with the invaders (this time from Asia) the way many of their disappointing parents do. They take to the hills, learn to fight and inspire a resistance movement. Along the way they learn lessons about loyalty, patriotism, and the price of the freedoms we all hold dear. Older brother Jed Eckert is played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor from “The Avengers”) while younger brother Matty Eckert is played by Josh Peck. The obligatory girlfriend who looks hot in guerrilla garb is played by Adrianne Palicki.
MGM looked at the original formula and decided that if it was going to upgrade just one ingredient, it would be the quality of the explosions. No firecrackers here, the new and improved “Red Dawn” has serious explosions and gunfire. A residential neighborhood is blown up with high definition digital effects. First time director Dan Bradley was previously a stunt coordinator and it shows. We see house to house gunfights that look and sound authentic. The new version uses realistic blood, rather than the Heinz ketchup favored by the producers of the original.
The problem is, this change in the formula disrupts the equilibrium that gave the original its charm. Every element of the original was equally unpersuasive. By making bullets more persuasive, Bradley only highlights the dumbnicity of the rest.
Worse, the new Red Dawn is a less kind movie. Along with the more realistic violence, there is more drinking and profanity. Unfortunately, the dialogue that is supposed to glue these elements together remains as insubstantial as the dialogue in the cartoonish original. (Says the young guerrilla leader: “We have to make it too hard and too difficult for them.”) One other change — the Soviet Union no longer being available as invaders, this film substituted the Chinese when it was shot a few years ago until the distributors who ended up with it after the first group ran out of money figured out that Chinese people constitute a very big audience for films, preferably ones that don’t make them the bad guys. So, the Chinese invaders were digitally altered to make them North Korean.
The new “Red Dawn” is slicker than the original but it lacks the heart that was the only redeeming feature of the first version. It is a meaner production, and probably not worth your time unless you go for the explosions, which are pretty good.
Parents should know that this film has extensive and sometimes graphic images of battle with guns and explosions, fighting, with characters injured and killed, and very strong language.
Family discussion: Why did some parents instruct their children to cooperate with the invaders? What made some people in the town choose to resist? What would be the hardest thing for you about fighting the invaders? How were the Wolverines like our founding fathers?
If you like this, try: the original 1984 version starring Patrick Swayze