Saturday, November 24, 2012

Red Dawn

Ever since tackling the iconic Marvel Comics role of Thor, Chris Hemsworth has become quite the rising star in Hollywood. Since then he’s had a couple of movies come out including Cabin in the Woods and this weekend’s Red Dawn, a remake of the 1984 cult classic starring Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen (it was the latter’s feature film debut). However, did you know that both of those films were actually made way back in 2009?

It’s true. They were filmed long before Hemsworth was known to movie fans, but shelved due to MGM’s financial troubles. Originally schedule to be released on November 24, 2010, the new Red Dawn, which was directed by first-timer Dan Bradley, finally made it to the big screen this weekend.

Even though I was a huge fan of the original, I was skeptical of the new one. Remakes of 1980s films tend to fall short both critically and at the box office (i.e. Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Friday the 13th, etc.), plus all the post-production problems (which is where the antagonists were changed from Chinese soldiers to North Korean, both digitally and in dialogue, in order to better their chances for an international release) made me wary. With that said, I went in with stunted expectations, while secretly holding out hope for something more.

The original’s story involved the start of World War III when the Soviet Union and Cuba invaded the Midwestern United States from Mexico, splitting the country in half and forcing a group of high school students to wage guerilla warfare. The premise of the remake is largely the same, though it’s been updated. Given the Soviet Union no longer exists and the Cold War is over, the villain was changed to North Korea; in addition, instead of an invasion of the Midwest, the setting was changed to the Northwest—Spokane, Washington to be exact (this makes a lot more sense in my opinion). Finally, technology has changed tremendously in the last 30 years, so that’s been reflected in the film as well. I appreciated all these changes and thought them necessary to appeal to a modern audience.

Now, I must admit, I actually enjoyed the new Red Dawn, though I fear I may be one of the few. Granted, it’s not going to become a cult classic like the original, but I thought they did a decent job following in the original’s footsteps, incorporating a few small changes here and there.

The buddy for this film was my old man, Larry Holloway.
It didn't take long for my skepticism to disappear; in fact, it happened in the opening sequence when paratroopers were invading the United States. It was a bit different than the original's, but it was still every bit intense, at least for me. I thought the confusion, panic, and terror associated with such an event was spot on, and I quickly lost myself in what I was watching. That continued through the first third of the film, which is when things stalled a bit.

For instance, the whole sequence when the Wolverines, which are what the teenage militia called themselves, trained to become a cohesive unit was way too rushed. In a matter of minutes they went from scared kids to a well-oiled killing machine. It wasn’t terribly done, but it could have been better, a theme that would repeat itself from there on out. Additionally, the action sequences were oftentimes too fast, hard to properly determine what was going on, and could have been more polished.

The movie was on the short side at around 90 minutes, and I can’t help but think how much better it could have been had it had more time to develop. There were certainly holes that could have been filled and character development that should have been done, but alas it ended up being bitty. Speaking of the end, I thought that was a little weak. Not what transpired just prior to it, which surprised me, but the note it ended on lacked a significant punch.

As far as the characters were concerned, I was impressed with the cast. Oftentimes young actors sink a film, but that wasn’t the case here. Hemsworth, who played Jed Eckert, proved once again that he is more than capable of being the leading man, and Josh Peck showed he has some acting chops as the younger Eckert brother, Matt. Josh Hutcherson, who is making a name for himself in the Hunger Games series, had a nice supporting role as Robert Kitner (obviously he’d have been used in a more prominent fashion had the film been made today, but in 2009 he wasn’t really a big name), and Adrianne Palicki was sufficient as Toni Walsh, the memorable strong-willed woman fighter from the original. It was also nice to see the highly underrated Jeffrey Dean Morgan as U.S. Marine Tanner, though we don’t see him until more than halfway through the film.

On the other hand, Brett Cullen, who played the father of the Eckert boys, had a limited role early, but he made use of his time onscreen. Likewise, the adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Connor Cruise, had a major role as Daryl Jenkins, one of the younger Wolverines. The now 17-year-old, who was even younger at the time of filming, obviously learned a thing or two from his old man, using his youth, enthusiasm and innocence to make a connection with the audience. No doubt he’ll be making a name for himself in Hollywood in years to come.

Red Dawn, which will benefit from the two-year delay due to Hemsworth’s celebrity, was good and actually surpassed my expectations, but it wasn’t great. If you’re looking for a fun weekend action movie, I say throw down the price of admission, buy some popcorn, and just relax. Red Dawn won’t make a big impression on you, but it will entertain.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 68%

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