“Red Dawn” a disappointing remake

The remake of Red Dawn is so bad, it’s…well, bad.

No one who goes to see a movie about a Chinese – sorry, North Korean – invasion of the United States is expecting high art, or even low art. Still, one could be forgiven for expecting at least a good time, but the movie doesn’t even deliver on that front.

Originally, Dawn was to have been about a Chinese invasion of the United States. The decision to change the villains from the Chinese to North Koreans was purely business: China took offense at being portrayed as a villainous nation, and said that the movie would not play in the lucrative Chinese market unless the bad guys were made something else. The filmmakers went back in and digitally changed flags and posters on walls, redid the credits, and turned the Chinese actors (who look and talk like Chinese actors) into the most well fed North Koreans (aside from the sexiest man alive) in the world.

Indeed, these must be super-North Koreans. The idea of the movie was already absurd: Can anyone really imagine China taking over the United States? At least there were real fears, however unfounded, during the 1980s. Now, the biggest fears about China involve them simply beating us at building their economy and competing on the world stage. Still, at least they are a big country that, were they to go completely insane, they could possibly invade the U.S., at least for a moment.

This movie asks now, though, to suspend our disbelief even further: a tiny little half-nation, with a population akin to the New York City metropolitan area, has somehow taken control of the U.S., the third largest nation in the world with a population of well over 300 million. Even if the entirety of North Korea were sent to invade the U.S., the numbers alone would win the day for America: there would only be one occupier for every 12 Americans.

Perhaps they could take over Spokane, where the movie takes place, but the whole U.S.?

Of course, the filmmakers are not stupid, and they do fumble around for a bit trying to explain how the numbers work. North Korea, you see, had some help from the Russians and an electro-magnetic pulse that knocked out all of the American military and civilian electronic infrastructure. For some reason, though, North Korean electronics – not necessarily known for their high quality – are able to withstand the EMP. Also, the Russians seem to only have been called up after the small band of high schoolers (this absurdity was from the first movie) began the rebellion.

Plot holes galore aside – and really, if there’s some good action on the screen, who cares about a few plot holes? – the movie still just does not work.

The original Red Dawn, made during the height of 1980s Cold War paranoia, was fun and, according to some – your reviewer included – a cult classic. In that version, a group of red-blooded American teenagers watched their school get invaded by Soviet-backed Nicaraguan paratroopers who shot their teachers, sort of John Hughes-gone-awry. This time, we don’t even get a remake of the school scene; everyone is at home when the North Koreans invade, and only then do they go out to find their friends. Is it too much to ask that an action movie about bad guys taking over our country be badass?

Strangely, the present version has a bit more character development than the original, but is anyone looking for that in Red Dawn? The characters more closely resemble contemporary American society as well, but only slightly. By my count, there are exactly two African Americans amongst the good guys, and one of their fathers is a traitor working with the – who was it? North Koreans? I kept getting distracted by the fact that the actors were Chinese.

Speaking of Asians, there were none amongst the good guys. That’s too bad, especially given that all of the movie’s bad guys, aside from a few collaborationists and a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Russian special operative, were some sort of Asian. It would have been nice if one of the patriots were Korean or Chinese. Perhaps a Chinese actor playing a Korean-American patriot?

The film had its moments, including some poking fun at the original, especially the famous deer blood-drinking scene (important in film history as one of the more prominent of the examples to be used to justify the creation of the PG-13 rating). Still, a good moment here or there cannot justify an otherwise dull movie.

Avoid the new Red Dawn. Instead, save your money and re-watch the old semi-classic on DVD. Or, better yet, just get to the theater early enough that you can see Skyfall.

Movie Review
Red Dawn

2012, 114 mins., Rated Pg-13

Photo: On the set of the Red Dawn film. Flickr