The original 1984 action staple Red Dawn may be a dumb reactionary fantasy, born of lingering anti-Soviet paranoia and Second Amendment zealotry, but there can be no doubt that its vision of Americans fighting the Reds on their home soil comes straight from John Milius’ ball sack. Starting with the genuinely spooky image of Soviet paratroopers cascading onto an open field behind a Spokane high school, Milius’ film thoroughly imagines an American city transformed by invasion and occupation, which raises the stakes for the plucky young guerrilla warriors who lead a rebellion from the mountains. The remake of Red Dawn has no such conviction, lamely substituting North Korea, the flavor-of-the-month rogue nation, for the U.S.S.R. while focusing mainly on reproducing the action without letting ideology get in the way. But Red Dawn without the jingoism is like a pie without the filling—it collapses into splintered mush.
Director Dan Bradley, a respected stunt coordinator and second-unit director making his debut feature, opts to scrap the memorable opening to Milius’ film in favor of an enemy drop right onto suburban streets and lawns. Taking over for Patrick Swayze, Thor’s Chris Hemsworth plays the leader of a band of rebels, a shit-kicking Iraq War veteran who knows how to survive in the woods and use guerrilla tactics against a much larger force. Joining him is his little brother Josh Peck, a high-school quarterback who lacks confidence and fights uphill to earn his older sibling’s respect. Together with Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, and Conner Cruise, they form “The Wolverines,” a scrappy band of rebels who take the school’s mascot as a rallying cry. Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up later as the leader of active-duty Marines who provide vital support in the shouting-dumb-slogans department.
Mired in postproduction for a few years—during which time the bad guys were changed from China to North Korea for marketing reasons—Red Dawn makes a few half-hearted bids for political relevance, but it seems distinctly uncomfortable with pushing buttons. The film’s real agenda rests with supplying scads of bloodless, semi-coherent action with clear good guys and bad guys and a little All-American can-do spirit behind it. White hats fighting for the homestead offer a basic Western appeal, but Red Dawn is a generic time-passer at best—and no matter where a person might stand on Milius’ original, that descriptive would never apply.