Look back into the genealogy of the long-shelved but newly released Red Dawn and you'll naturally find John Milius's original film from 1984, a commie-baiting, Reagan-era paranoid thriller.
Go further back to 1962 and check out the U.S. Defense Department propaganda film Red Nightmare hosted by Jack Webb, a speculative short about how Communists were preparing to infiltrate Anytown, U.S.A. (It's on YouTube.)
Possibly, the producers of this film felt the time was right for a remake a few years back, with the rise of the Tea Party signalling a potential revival of a profitably paranoid demographic.
Hence, the breaking dawn of another Red Dawn, which promptly plunks us into that most cherished American tradition, the high school football game, where quarterback Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) is losing a game despite his penchant for bold strategy. His estranged elder brother Jed (pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) looks on in disappointment. It's life as usual in this unassuming Pacific Northwest community, until next morning, when the brothers awaken to some tyrannosaurus-like vibrations emanating from somewhere near their Spokane home.
Up in the sky, the firmament is filled with armed soldiers parachuting earthward. It soon becomes evident that the entire continental U.S. is has been strategically checkmated by... North Korea?
Yes, in post-production, the poltroon producers of this movie got cold feet at the notion of portraying China as the perpetrators of this assault, apparently for the same reason a homeowner might choose not to offend his bank: It's best not to annoy the people holding your mortgage.
In any case, the brothers join up with other teen friends and regroup at the family cabin, where Jed, an Iraq war veteran, lays down the law as to how to fight back.
Under Jed's command, the high schoolers are transformed into guerillas, adopting the name of the football team, the Wolverines, committed to playing offence against the visiting team of North Korean invaders and scoring a touchdown for freedom.
Dan Bradley, making his feature directorial debut, came into the film business as a stunt co-ordinator, which explains why the film has lots of impressive action-movie stunt work, but nothing in the way of any discernible visual style. Milius's movie about Russian invaders may have been equally ludicrous, but at least that director knew how to yield maximum impact from the premise.
But the secret of both films is that the premise is not really a "Red Nightmare" but a wet dream for an undiscerning teen audience given to violent fantasy about defending their home turf from interlopers. Communists, after all, are so much more credible movie cannon fodder than, say, zombies.
Or at least they should have been, prior to this movie's ideological side-stepping.
Hence, one comes away from this redo with nothing except new respect for John Milius.
At least he had the courage of his lunatic convictions.
"The invaders could have been Mexicans, Canadians or even the Freedonians and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. And that's because the film isn't great. Heck, it's not even good."
-- Jim Judy, Screen It
"Red Dawn without the jingoism is like a pie without the filling -- it collapses into splintered mush."
--Scott Tobias, AV Club
"In Red Dawn, a group of American high school kids outwit, outlast, and outplay an army of evil foreigners who have invaded Spokane, Wash., with the intention of... well, of making audiences nostalgic for Commie-era movies featuring evil foreigners one could gaily boo without worrying about real-life consequences."
-- Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
Starring Josh Peck and Chris Hemsworth
óè Kildonan Place, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
óè 94 minutes
'Ö'Ö out of five