‘Red Dawn’ Review: Remake Swaps Jingoism for Adolescent War Fantasy

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Talented young actors get lost among the ka-blam in this noisy, choppy retread of the Reagan-era original

Everybody, relax: According to the new remake of “Red Dawn,” there will still be ample opportunities for Pepsi and Subway product-placement opportunities even after the North Koreans invade our shores.

Good thing, too, because this is a movie that requires a caffeinated audience.

The 1984 edition of “Red Dawn” played upon Cold War–era paranoia about the Soviet Union, with whom we’d never engaged on the battlefield, even though they were our national Big Bad.

That film imagined a Russian invasion of Colorado, with high-school jocks going commando and becoming freedom fighters.

It’s a little strange to be seeing a new “Red Dawn” now that the Cold War is over and there’s very real conflict in the world that all too many American teenagers are being sent to fight. What was once jingoistic wishful thinking, and kind of dopey wishful thinking, is now a mere adolescent power fantasy, with the “Call of Duty” generation suddenly firing off real rocket launchers and automatic weapons. If this were any more about a childish desire to shoot at bad guys, our heroes would “br-r-r-r-oh!”

The remake stars Chris Hemsworth (“The Avengers”) and Josh Peck (“The Wackness”) as Spokane, Wash., brothers who flee to the woods and adopt guerilla tactics when North Korean soldiers start parachuting into their sleepy hamlet. Jed (Hemsworth), between tours of duty overseas, finds himself having to whip a bunch of fresh-faced kids into fighting machines, while Matt (Peck) proves reluctant to take orders. (The movie lets us know this by opening with a football game in which QB Matt refuses to pass the ball, despite repeated entreaties from his coach.)

Before you know it, they’ve created a ragtag bunch of rebels, including nerdy Robert (Josh Hutcherson), hot chick Toni (Adrianne Palicki) and the-other-one Daryl (Connor Cruise, giving a blank performance in a blank role). Matt’s girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas) eventually turns up, looking like the most refreshed refugee camp escapee of all time. (As she related her tale of horror, I half expected her to weep, “And then … they … spray-tanned me!”)

There are some other Wolverines (the teen fighters adopt their highschool mascot for their anti-invasion terror cell), but first-timer Dan Bradley’s direction of Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore’s choppy script makes it a challenge to figure out who’s who and what happens to them. For instance, Julie, (Alyssa Diaz) seems just to disappear at one point, although presumably the character dies in one of the many incomprehensibly edited action sequences.

Say what you will about director John Milius’ and co-writer Kevin Reynolds’ work on the original movie, those guys knew how to blow stuff up while allowing the audience to follow along. During much of the new “Red Dawn,” whenever shots were fired or explosives were set off, I lost track of who was running in which direction for what reason.

The lead actors here have all done fine work in other movies, but this material is so flimsy that they are powerless against it. Hutcherson gives what may be his first lackluster performance here, and I say that as someone who saw both “Journey to the Center of the Earth” movies.

“Red Dawn” has followed a somewhat tortured path to the big screen: The invading troops were originally Chinese, but the uniforms and flags were later digitally switched to North Korea so as not to offend one of the world’s largest growing film markets. After that, studio bankruptcy led to the film spending years on the shelf, next to another Hemsworth vehicle, the far superior “Cabin in the Woods.”

Let us learn a lesson, then, if not from the scrappy underdogs of “Red Dawn” but from the journey of the film itself: Sometimes, even when the cards are stacked against you, and it looks like things won’t work out, you can overcome all the obstacles only to discover, in the final analysis, that your movie still sucks.