Shitty Movie Sundays: Red Dawn (2012)

It’s been awhile, but Shitty Movie Sundays returns for the first time since last Halloween. What a doozy we have today.

In 1984, John Milius, the man who wrote Apocalypse Now, wrote and directed Red Dawn, the story of a band of high school kids battling an invading Soviet and Cuban army in the mountains around Calumet, Colorado (and also the first PG-13 film). The story was totally ridiculous, even for the Reagan era. I was in elementary school then, hardly paying rapt attention to international relations, and even I can still remember how provocative the Cold War got during those years. Reagan didn’t seem all that particularly interested in living in peace alongside the Soviet Union. He’d needle them every chance he got. He truly believed they were the evil empire. The way he ratcheted up the rhetoric put people a little on edge. So, even though the premise of a Soviet invasion of the United States was hogwash, it wasn’t beyond the realm of thought that we might, someday soon, have to throw down against the commies.

That first Red Dawn exploited Cold War fears that were decades old by that point, but they were real. This new film had to find a new enemy to replace the Soviet Union. The successors to the Soviets, the Russians, wouldn’t do. Why would they invade us? They’re totally fine with racking up oil wealth and running a corrupt kleptocracy. Al Qaeda? Sure, they’re our enemy, but they’re terrorists, not invaders. Besides, there aren’t nearly enough of them. The Taliban? Nope. What about the Chinese? Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Chinese are ambitious, itching to surpass the United States as the world’s superpower. They have the numbers and they have the cash. We’ve also been poking and prodding at each other for a while now, so it’s not totally ridiculous that we could end up fighting each other someday. The merits of the idea aside, the Chinese are the best bet for the invading army in the remake of Red Dawn.

So there it is.

The remake of Red Dawn, directed by Dan Bradley, tells the story of a band of high school kids battling an invading Chinese army in the city of Spokane, Washington.

Wait a minute...

How come the credits set up the invaders as North Koreans? In fact, why are the bad guys speaking Korean and why are there North Korean flags everywhere? Well, that’s easy to explain. The filmmakers agreed that the most believable scenario for a 21st century invasion of the United States would be if the Chinese were to do it. Believable is a relative term here, but the Chinese fit the bill. Only, after the film was in the can way back in 2009, MGM, the studio behind the project, ran into money troubles, and the film started to generate some bad press in China. The suits saw all that precious box office yuan floating away in China and made the decision to change the bad guys to North Koreans. Remember, this happened after the film was already shot.

What this meant was a new opening title sequence (easy enough), a few reshoots, some overdubbed dialogue, and changing every Red Chinese flag in the entire movie to a North Korean flag. That must have been fucking tedious for the digital effects guys. Those flags were everywhere. Banners, decals on vehicles, shoulder patches on all the soldiers. It never ended. But the filmmakers did it. They managed to take one set of bad guys and replace them with a whole different set of bad guys, and the only time I thought something fishy was going on was when the North Korean soldiers’ mouths weren’t synched up with the audio. But, North Korean soldiers mouthing Mandarin while the audience hears Korean is a pretty small gripe. There’s plenty of other stuff in this dog that makes it shitty.

Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, move aside, we have ourselves some new blood. You’re the old generation. Make way for Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Isabel Lucas, and Adrianne Palicki. Wow, that’s a whole lot of middling talent, on both sides of the generation gap.

Hemsworth takes over the role of Jed Eckert from Patrick Swayze in this one. Jed is a United States Marine, home on leave in Spokane. While he’s there, the North Koreans invade, filling the sky with airplanes and paratroopers. Jed grabs his brother Matt (Peck) and heads for the hills. He’s joined by a few other young’uns, and, after seeing Jed and Matt’s old man get shot in the head, they decide to launch a guerilla war against the invaders.

This new film breaks away from its predecessor in stylistic ways only. Instead of most of the film taking place in the wilderness, it takes place in a city. Instead of the Russians, we have the Chinese. Oops, I mean the North Koreans. Mostly that’s it. It tries to capitalize on pretty faces just as much as the 1984 film, but that’s common in Hollywood, no matter the project. The big difference is, this time around, the whole film feels forced. The new film tries to hit all the same notes and emotional cues as the old film, but fails. That’s quite an achievement considering how shallow the original film was. But while the old Red Dawn is no classic, it’s competent, and because of that competence, it’s holding up well over time. This new film is so bad that it’s beginning to feel dated after it’s extended three-year stay on the shelf. It lacks character. It lacks feeling. It’s a criminally generic remake starring a gaggle of people who will fade into obscurity shortly, no matter how many Avengers and Hunger Games flicks they may have found themselves cast in after this dog wrapped.

Red Dawn (2012) is a hackneyed, stumbling mess. The fact they got this thing released at all, though, is a testament to the post-production team. Good work, folks. Bad movie, though. Alien: Resurrection is a better film than Red Dawn (2012). I highly recommend taking a look at the original. So many people can take so many different things away from it.