This film image released by Film District shows Josh Peck , left, Josh Hutcherson, center, and Chris Hemsworth in a scene from "Red Dawn." (AP Photo/Film District)
1 and 1/2 stars out of 4
When the original "Red Dawn" came out in 1984 it gained instant notoriety for being not only the first "PG-13" rated movie but also (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) the most violent film ever made up until that time. Considered by both its fans and detractors as a major chunk of cheese, it was also widely embraced by the far right, who cited it has a supreme example of cinematic American patriotism. "The National Review" still has at No. 15 on its all-time list of conservative-themed productions.
While narrowly escaping the cheese label, the new "Red Dawn" is every bit as lame and far-fetched as its forefather. In the can and ready to go since early 2010, it has been bogged down by studio woes, outside political pressure and multiple release date changes. Considering its heavy competition this weekend ("Lincoln" and the last installment of "Twilight"), it will likely be seen by a few teen boys enamored with video games and then die a mercifully quick death.
Stuffing new faces inside an iffy old story has rarely proven successful but the producers do so anyway with two current high-profile action guys (Chris Hemsworth -- Thor in "The Avengers" and Josh Hutcherson from "The Hunger Games"). The remaining half-dozen or so principals can't act a lick but are model-ready even while dodging bombs and bullets.
Less the war flick it would like to be and more of a low-end sci-fi what-if, the premise is a huge stretch. In retaliation for the U.S. sticking its nose into their business far too often, the North Koreans decide to invade that most prized and strategic of all American cities -- Spokane, Wash. With troops parachuting from WWII-era planes, the Koreans take over the town with initial blinding efficiency. Yet the thousands of them then morph into Keystone Kops when it comes to snuffing out a rebel insurgency comprised mostly of less than a dozen high-school kids.
Led by off-duty Iraq War Marine Jed (Hemsworth), the ragtag malcontents are whipped into fighting shape in no time flat. Barely able to hold, much less fire, guns at first, they turn into marksman with SWAT-like aim literally overnight. They hide in plain sight in woods just outside the city and sashay into town at will laying waste to heavily fortified encampments.
The villains in the first movie were the Russians which made all kinds of sense as the Cold War was still going strong. This time it was supposed to be the Chinese, which given their stranglehold on the U.S. economy and the national debt was logical. Things got hairy when the Chinese government got their hands on a leaked copy of the screenplay on the Internet, started making a lot of noise and leaned on Hollywood. Deathly afraid of loosing their lucrative Chinese box-office revenues, the studio (at that time MGM) -- with some fancy computer programs airbrushed out every visual image that could remotely be perceived as Chinese and settled on the easy-to-pick-on-and-make-fun-of Koreans.
If the filmmakers had half a brain between them and wanted to produce an interesting remake, all they needed to do was pay attention to the groups who considered the first version a good movie. Instead of "Red Dawn" call it "Green Dawn" and replace the teens' guns with state-of-the-art computers. They would be hackers raising Cain over the looming "fiscal cliff" who could break through both U.S. and Chinese firewalls and -- pinching a bit from "Fight Club" -- instantly wipe out all public and private global debt. That would be true anarchy and something a great many people would want to pay to see. It's also a good bet it would be gobbled up by not only techno-geeks and conspiracy theorists the world over but also members of the Tea Party and subscribers to "the National Review." (FilmDistrict/Open Road)