Monday, December 10, 2012

Red Dawns

By Jon Gallagher

Red Dawn (United Artists, 1984) – Director: John Milius. Starring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, and Charlie Sheen.

Red Dawn (Contrafilm, 2012) – Director: Dan Bradley. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, and Connor Cruise.

I’ve done some columns on reboots so I thought I was going to do a review of a reboot. But I’m not. They’re calling Red Dawn a remake. So I’m reviewing a remake.

Back in 1984, the United States was in a staring contest with the Soviet Union. We’d been at odds with them since the end of World War II, and tensions had run high since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Red Dawn came out just before the USSR fell apart, so the concept of the movie was very topical. It featured Russia invading the USA and a ragtag group of high schoolers fleeing to higher ground and conducting guerilla raids that drove the invading Ruskies nuts.

Since that time, we’ve become buddy buddy with Russia while a bunch of wackos changed the course of history by flying planes into buildings. Al-Qaeda makes a more likely villain for a movie like this, but since they really don’t have a country and their terror attacks only work on limited targets, the writers of this movie had to come up with a logical opponent to invade the United States.

Then again, if we want to start reviewing these movies based solely on logic, then we’re going to have a major problem. Both movies depend entirely on the willingness to suspend disbelief for a couple hours.

In the 1984 version, the movie starts with a prologue of sorts, explaining that the world has been plunged into war and that the Russians, along with the Cubans, have invaded Mexico. It makes no mention of what the United States did, so we can only assume that our military just sort of sat on the sidelines and watched everything happen around them. There’s very little that happens before paratroopers start falling out of the sky to invade a sleepy little Colorado town. Several teens head up into the mountains to escape, and then slowly, take back their town.

The movie is both tense and entertaining through most of it (it gets a little drawn out at the end) and it does an excellent job of allowing the audience to follow the quick maturation of a bunch of kids turned warriors. Part way into the movie they get the assistance of an Air Force pilot who has dropped in and tells the group that they are famous freedom fighters in unoccupied America.

Patrick Swayze stars as the leader of the rebels with a very young Charlie Sheen filling the role as his younger brother. Jennifer Grey, who will later star with Swayze in Dirty Dancing and Lea Thompson provide excellent female point of view as they mature from frightened teenage girls to battle-hardened veterans.

My only real problem is with the logic. I never understood why the Russians invaded Colorado. I understand the invasion of Mexico part, but then why didn’t they invade Texas (other than the fact that Texans are crazy and would have kicked their collective asses)?

I won’t give away the ending, but I thought the last 15 minutes of the movie were pretty lame. I rented it the other night because I hadn’t seen it in more than 25 years and needed a little refresher for this review. I’d give it a C, mainly because it falls apart so much in the last 15 minutes.

The newer version has North Korea attacking the US, which makes sense, I guess. This time the attack hits the coastline of the Pacific Northwest which really made a lot more sense than Colorado.

Once again, a group of kids band together and hide out in the mountains, running guerilla attacks on the invaders. The characters are very similar (some even have the same names).

The movie has been in the can for two years, but not released until Thanksgiving weekend. It seems that when they first made the film, they used the Chinese as the bad guys. Since then, it made more sense to use Korea, so they had to go through with their computers and change all the Chinese flags and insignias to Korean flags and insignias. That took some time, and the switch wasn’t noticeable.

We start off with a high school football game and spend entirely too much time trying to establish the second banana’s (Josh Peck) personality. His older brother (Chris Hemsworth) is home on leave from the Marines and stops by to watch his little brother play. The next day, the invasion begins.

Too much of this movie is spent trying to give us background on characters and not enough time developing them on screen. It’s like the writers are trying to cram the characters’ personalities down our throat rather than allowing us to discover who they are through their current actions and interactions.

The second movie also features a trio of Marines who drop in to help out the kids. I’m not sure they’re meant to be comic relief or not, but one of the guys uses nothing but military slang which leaves all but one of the group wondering what he’s talking about most of the time.

My other problem with the movie is the bad guy. He does some pretty bad stuff, but whether it was a result of miscasting or just bad acting, Will Yun Lee just doesn’t come across as being a mega-badass. Sure, we want to see him die at some point (SPOILER ALERT) because he kills another character, but I’m thinking maybe he killed the wrong one and that a better choice might have been more impactful when the good vs. evil moment comes. In fact, another victory or two over the Wolverines might have done the trick. We get the impression that the Wolverines always pull out a win at the last moment.

Then again, maybe it’s because I didn’t get emotionally attached to the character they do kill. 

Maybe it’s because the spent too much time developing the wrong characters.

I thought the action sequences were better this time around, but they should be, given the leaps and bounds of technology over the last 28 years. The Wolverines (the guerilla group’s name) wreck more havoc on their raids than in the first movie and there are times when I felt like cheering them on.

There is a point of logic that they explained, but not well enough for my tastes. Apparently, the invading forces were able to shut down large grids of electric power which is what allowed them to sneak past our defenses, allowing them to drop thousands of paratroopers onto our soil. I take it that this means that our defense systems have no back-up generators or anything else that might run the radar (I’m suddenly reminded of the Airplane movie where the guy unplugs a single cord and shuts everything down). TV and radio stations have them so they can broadcast the news, a house in the middle of the woods have them, but NORAD does not. Hmmmm.

My second bone to pick involves the technology the Koreans have. Evidently, they had what they need to shut down all electricity in an area and the ability to override everyone else’s cell phones (their own work due to a magic black box that they’ve got), but they don’t have the technology to detect the body heat of a dozen kids hiding out in the hills outside of town. Double Hmmmm.

If I can get past those two points (which would have been a lot easier to do had they not spent so much time trying to justify some of the illogical parts), then I enjoyed the movie. The ending was more satisfying than the first and the action sequences kept me more on the edge of my chair than the first (I honestly did not recall how the first one ended before seeing it again).

Once is enough for me. I won’t be renting or owning it on DVD. If you like action movies on the big screen, go see it. If you’re content with them on your home theater system, then be patient. It’ll be out soon.

I’ll give this one a C+, a slight bit better than the first, mainly because of the ending and the fact that they attacked the coastline rather than the middle of the country.

Bit O' Trivia

The original Red Dawn was the first movie released with a PG-13 rating.

It was also Charlie Sheen’s first movie (he had two previous uncredited roles as a child).

According to a website, the invasion by Russian and Cuban forces via Mexico was done because the Army War College and the CIA determined that that would be the weakest point of American defenses.

Red Dawn 2012 was to have the Chinese invading and the commander, played by Will Lun Lee was, naturally, Chinese. When they shifted to North Korea, Lee didn’t have to undergo much; he is Korean. He has had a recurring role on the latest incarnation of Hawaii Five-0.

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