Red Dawn

Red Dawn (2012)
★ / ★★★★

After a strange power blackout the night before, brothers Matt (Josh Peck) and Jed (Chris Hemsworth) wake up to tremors caused by explosions from afar. Scrambling downstairs and opening the front door, they discover dozens of North Korean paratroopers descending from the heavens and the neighborhood is thrown into chaos. Jed the Marine responds quickly and instructs his younger sibling to get inside the truck. Soon, they find themselves picking up friends on the way to a secure location.

“Red Dawn,” directed by Dan Bradley, is as frustrating as it is boring and miscalculated. The premise is interesting: a bunch of kids suddenly being thrown into warfare and deciding that it is their duty to liberate their home from foreign invaders. Though the template is ripe for a good action picture, not much is done with it. Instead of establishing a specific mood and searching for meaning behind the noise, it makes violence glamorous–and laughable. After a would-be training montage in the woods, it remains hard to believe that these high school students can jump on top of buildings like Jason Bourne and not pop their kneecaps–or at least twist their ankles.

The screenplay is cynical because it is rooted in the idea that nothing much is going on inside teenage brains other than getting together with the opposite sex, embracing a superficial definition of honor, and having an inability to put aside personal issues for the greater good. There is not one character I could relate with–someone I could look at and think, “If I were thrusted in a similar situation, I would be like him (or her).” The writers, Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore, treat the kids like a piece of meat, only to be disposed of when it is convenient to the plot for dramatic purposes.

It lacks an effective human element. The easiest to explore would have been the relationship between the two brothers. Instead, during the quieter moments, they sit next to girls and they flirt. Now, I have never been to war or a similar situation, but I can imagine. If my life was in danger every minute, the last thing on my mind would be hooking up. I would want to be next to my family, to try to get to know them more, to fix whatever was broken. Its priority is so misplaced that I ended up feeling upset halfway through.

A convincing dynamic among the rebel group, calling themselves Wolverines, is absent. Each character is so underwritten that I could not keep track of their names. To help orient myself, I labeled them with names like “Marine,” “Quarterback,” “Guy Who Swallowed Deer Blood” (Josh Hutcherson). They go to town and cause problems for the North Koreans, but we are not given any inside scoop on how they are going to execute their plan. They just do it. Are we supposed to just buy it? How is that an enjoyable experience for us?

“Red Dawn” is not good enough for a smart viewer who wish to pick the political and moral implications of the content or for someone who simply wishes to turn his brain off and experience empty calorie entertainment. Certainly both camps deserve much more.

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