Fantastic Fest Review: RED DAWN Withstands An Invasion Of Inspiration

 Not nearly as bad as laying on a grenade. Probably similar to asphyxiation, though.

I hate to beat up on Red Dawn too much because the film at least manages to kill some kids on screen. Given its PG-13 rating and general adherence to castrated Hollywood tropes, I didn't know if they'd take it that far. Fortunately, they did. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter.

Red Dawn is such a vapid, ephemeral film that I half expect it to disappear from the Earth altogether a month after its eventual transition to digital media. At every turn the film appears to strive for blandness and succeeds. Though it moves quickly and occasionally delivers decent action scenes, the film totally lacks identity and fails to offer any justification for its existence.

We know this to be true from the film's weird racial issues. The North Korean invading force in this version of the film actually used to be Chinese. Filmmakers went in and changed them digitally into Koreans in an effort to keep China from invading us in real life (or so my racist cinephile uncle tells me). The change must have been easy since villain presence in this film is 100% cosmetic. Chinese, North Korean, Japanese or those evil bastards from Rambo - it really doesn't matter who does the invading in Red Dawn. They're just Asian faces. Absolutely nothing about them calls attention to their nationality, only their race, and only then because an Asian cannot help looking Asian. It's not as though they fight or strategize in any particularly Asian way. The villains of Red Dawn might as well be aliens, or mannequins or some of Supernatural's invisible monsters.

Thanks to minor usage of such special effects as dialogue, haircuts and wardrobe, Red Dawn's child army fares a bit better, if barely. Chris Hemsworth manages to deliver the most basic version of his persona as a Marine in town between deployments. He's the Leonardo. His little brother, played by Josh Peck, wears hats. His headstrong nature makes him harder to lead, so he's the Raphael. Their dad is the Splinter, obviously. It seems early on that electronics wizard Josh Hutcherson will take the C. Thomas Howell psychopath role. But no. He sticks with the electronics and provides the film's Donatello. The film's boring and tame, so there is no Michelangelo.

I image many kids who see this film won't have any familiarity with the original. In addition to their other hypothetical problems and questions ("What the crap is this crap?"), they may wonder why the film is so dour when it fails to really sell its end of the world stakes. Oddly enough, one of the only elements Red Dawn actually carries over from the original is its humorlessness. It makes sense in Milius' version since he's such a gung-ho paranoid wacko in real life, just crazy enough to see past the obvious silliness of the film's premise. This new movie is politically inert, so it might as well crack a smile. Probably the only real joke in the film goes to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, (this film's Casey Jones) and it's a total snoozer.

One thing they really do change is most of the fighting areas. Instead of kicking ass in the cold woods, these kids kick ass in city streets. Ultimately, this matters about as much as the whole movie matters. They could be fighting on Mars, and it would feel about the same.

That's too bad because showing us all this urban stuff necessitates visuals pertaining to the order and structure of North Korean rule that the film frustratingly never comments upon or goes into. We learn that shopkeepers and other community members have been helping the Wolverines, but never get anything about how their economy works or what life is like inside. In fact, the Wolverines somehow enter and exit the city at will, blending in with everyone else's anonymity, further lowering this film's dramatic stakes since their activities are so easy. It's too bad because this one angle could have focused attention away from the original and helped justify this version's existence.

If you find yourself unlucky enough to get pulled into Red Dawn, don't despair. The film will waste your time, but it's not a pain. The pacing is actually quite great. If I have one nice thing to say about this version of Red Dawn it's that the film at least has the good sense to get all the Wolverine super training, team building and strategizing done in one big montage. Also, we don't have to watch each kid get offed one by one like in the Milius version. They let a couple go and call it a day because who really gives a shit.