Back in 1984, I spent the summer working, with one of my best friends, in Chillicothe, Ohio. Ronald Reagan was president in those days, and the Soviet Union still existed, and fears that We and They might go to war were very real when, one boring Sunday afternoon, my friend and I went to see the original Red Dawn.
For the uninitiated: Red Dawn is about an invasion of the U.S. by the Soviets. Set in a small town in Colorado, it follows a group of high-school-aged kids who become “The Wolverines,” partisans executing guerilla strikes against the occupying Russkies and Cubans. It seemed absurd to us at the time, but we liked it anyway, and so did a lot of other people; it was a hit, and has grown into a cult favorite in the decades since.
The desire to remake it was probably inevitable, but it came with an obvious problem: Who, in 2013, would play the essential role of They, especially if the Dawn was to remain Red? The only even nominally Communist superpower left is China, so that’s who MGM originally picked for the remake, out today on DVD.
China was offended by this vulgarity, and why shouldn’t they be? They’ve already conquered us, on the battlefields of WalMart and of the National Debt. Also, China has a lot of people who, like people almost everywhere else, like to go to American movies, and MGM didn’t want to alienate them.
But North Korea? Not a big box office concern for MGM. So, after a bit of re-editing, redubbing and digital tweaking, and the addition of a new prologue montage…presto! It’s that global superpower North Korea that’s dropping paratroopers on Spokane, Washington. Dennis Rodman reports that all Kim Jong-un really wants is a call from Obama; according to this movie, the Prez shouldn’t be playing hard to get.
It’s a hilarious illustration of the degree to which, in this kind of adolescent fantasy, Any Enemy Will Do. Aside from this central risibility, however, this wingnut actioner, directed by stunt-unit veteran Dan Bradley, is fast-moving and reasonably entertaining. Replacing Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen from the original are Chris Hemsworth, aka The Mighty Thor, and Josh Peck, while Jeffery Dean Morgan takes over for Powers Boothe.
They and their young costars are all perfectly competent, but nobody’s heart really seems in it. It’s all less laughably overwrought and masochistic than the ’84 film, but for this very reason, I doubt this Red Dawn will replace the original in many people’s affections. It’s more calculating, less crazily sincere—a going-through-the-motions movie.