The 2012 Fantastic Fest Film Festival closes not with a bang but with a fart, one that reeks of jingoism and all the laziest, mindless and whorish aromas of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. The originator of this stench? Dan Bradley’s remake of the 1984 war movie Red Dawn. A tale of American high schoolers who fight back against a nefarious foreign invasion, this contemporary version was actually finished in 2010, only to be repeatedly delayed, first by MGM studios’ money woes, and then, absurdly, so the filmmakers could make alterations to film, changing via reshoots and digital alternations the nationality of its villains from Chinese to North Korean. Sadly, questionable racial politics are amongst the least of this action stinker’s problems.
Josh Peck (Drillbit Taylor) plays Matt Eckert, the son of a police officer in verdant Washington State, who’s forced to flee into the woods with his older brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth; The Avengers) and a group of his classmates after Chinese North Korean troops launch a full scale military invasion. Presented with a simple choice of surrender or fight, the youths decide to arm themselves and, after a rather ludicrous training montage, wage guerrilla warfare against the aggressors in an attempt to win back their nation.
Hemsworth has a strong screen presence but Peck is absolutely awful – as a result, the chemistry between the alleged brothers is simply nonexistent. The supporting characters, meanwhile, even those few lucky enough to be given names, have the personality of shooting range targets, albeit ones that the highly trained Chinese North Korean soldiers seem oddly unable to hit. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) has a couple of nice moments as the only character who seems to struggle with the violent job that he’s tasked with, but the rest of the cast seems to have been picked based on their resemblance to clothing models instead of their actual ability. That’s certainly the case with the film’s three female characters, who are reduced, repeatedly, to fits of useless hysteria.
But on the sliding scale of character dimension, it’s the Chinese North Korean’s who languish well and truly at the bottom. Ultimately the issue of their – let’s call it “national reassignment” – is relatively insignificant to the plot of the film, since no reason is actually given for their invasion. While stopping just short of overt racism, Bradley makes no attempts to humanise the invaders, while the arrival of a single, perfunctory Asian American character late in the film is tokenism at its most obvious and insulting.
Red Dawn contains some decent enough action sequences, although too often they’re rendered incomprehensible by schizophrenic editing and camerawork. What’s more jarring is the total absence of visible blood or bullet wounds – a typical act of sanitisation meant to allow for a wider audience, which has the troubling side affect of downplaying the impact and, hence, the consequences of what is otherwise some pretty serious violence. What few strong moments Red Dawn possesses – like when one member of the “Wolverines” is forced to pick between his father and his comrades – are always ruined by the atrocious dialogue, or some blatant product placement: “this moment of camaraderie is brought to your by Subway Restaurants. Subway, Eat Fresh!”
Indeed, between the lack of blood, the fact that they don’t speak English and the total absence of empathy they display, the Chinese North Korean’s in this film are depicted as barely more human that the aliens in Battleship or Battle: Los Angeles. So Red Dawn is revealed as yet another awful, flag-waving, post-War on Terror guilt reassignment picture, in which America is painted as the tenacious underdog, attempting to liberate their nation from a technologically superior occupying force, one that attacked without cause or provocation. As opposed to real life, where of course it’s the other way around.
Red Dawn was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2012 Fantastic Fest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.