Though it might seem slightly more topical than it did when it was released last November, home video release is unlikely to appreciate Red Dawn's standing in the public eye. That's kind of a shame, as the 13% critical approval rating that greeted it in theaters seems unduly harsh, given its competent storytelling, attractive cast, and well-staged action sequences. The original film (while no masterpiece), has endured primarily as a time capsule, and as a shockingly vivid portrait of conservative fears of the Reagan era, so no matter where this remake took things, there was little chance it could compete with the original in political or historical terms. It's smart enough to know this, and so forsakes nearly all political sermonizing in favor of guerilla strategizing and bone-crunching violence. There was probably no reason to remake Red Dawn in the first place, but so long as they were going to, it could have been a lot worse (and with a far worse lead than Hemsworth).
A quick flurry of news clips bring us up to date with the near future: economic collapse, national bankruptcy, a shifting of international power away from the United States. Little of that seems to have affected Spokane, Washington, depicted here as an Anytown, U.S.A. that grants Jed Eckert (Hemsworth) a welcome sanctuary from the horrors of Iraq. That peace is short-lived, as North Korea (with the suggested help of China and Russia) invades the Pacific Northwest, and Jed, his brother Matt (Josh Peck), and friends Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Toni (Adrianne Palicki) and Erica (Isabel Lucas) are sent into the forest to escape from re-education centers. Once there, they form the guerilla organization the Wolverines (taken from the high school football team's mascot), and set out to push the occupiers from their home.
The original Red Dawn was written and directed by John Milius, a noted film-maker who worked on Dirty Harry, Jaws, and Apocalypse Now. He was also the basis for John Goodman's Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, so that gives you an idea of what he was like personally. Though he made any number of films glorifying violence in historical settings (Conan The Barbarian being perhaps the most famous), Red Dawn was the only time he addressed it in the speculative future; in 1984, only a year after Able Archer and several more before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the prospect of Russians invading the mainland United States wasn't a fringe concern or a conspiracy theory. It was a concern with eerie resonance for much of the mainstream, and Red Dawn voiced it without hyperbole. Nearly thirty years on, who does this remake speak for?
People who like to see things blow up, apparently. The specter of nuclear war has largely been replaced by that of insurgent terrorism, and fringe theories have largely evolved with them; if anything, this Red Dawn is an apolitical creature, possessing no philosophy and loyal to no political movement. That's a very real betrayal of what the original film was, but a wise acknowledgement of what modern audiences would find palatable (one can only imagine if an Obama stand-in was complicit in the communist invasion). To that end, when it comes to the raw kinetics, this Dawn largely delivers. Director Dan Bradley (a stunt veteran) wisely limits the scope to Spokane, where it can be better focused into hand-to-hand tactics. Similarly, the cast (especially Hemsworth) acquits itself well, putting on respectable game faces and never confusing the proceedings for a fashion shoot. Had it been a little more satirical, Red Dawn might have been great, but as is, it's a perfectly passable wave of the flag.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
None to speak of.
"Red Dawn" is on sale March 5, 2013 and is rated PG13. Action. Directed by Dan Bradley. Written by Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore. Starring Adrianne Palicki, Chris Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck.