Monday, April 29, 2013

Rental Review: Red Dumb...er, Dawn (2012)



First, let me extend a heartfelt apology to Kaos Studios for ever mentioning their first person shooter in connection with this dreadful movie.  Sure, both shared the same idiotic premise of a North Korean invasion of America, but I am sure Homefront provided far more entertainment value than this dog of a movie.   

Having said that, I will now briefly review Red Dawn (2012).  You know what was the best part of this movie?  That screenshot above.  Everything else was rubbish.  Yeah, seriously.

Now, I want to be clear about something.  As you probably know from reading my previous post, I am a HUGE fan of the original movie.  Therefore, I guess it could be expected that I would find fault with any film that tried to "remake" John Milius' classic.  I understand that.  However, let me assure you that I went into this film prepared to forgive a lot because I am one who believes that more of a good thing is no sin.  So, when I loaded the DVD into the player, I sat down with eager anticipation....

...And after the first 15 minutes, one word came to mind:  "Bastards".  Those lousy and lazy Hollywood bastards.

What director Dan Bradley, and writers Jeremy Passmore and Carl Ellsworth, did to the memory of the classic film is simply criminal, something on the order of the USSR's 1956 invasion of Hungary. In fact, it is worse than criminal, it is downright incompetent.  Where to start....

Well, I guess the obvious place to begin is the premise of a North Korean invasion of the US.  Yeah, we all knew this was an completely idiotic idea from the get-go.  What made the original film so powerful was how it tapped into the Cold War insecurities of the era.  Sure, we might be concerned about the so-called Hermit Kingdom & their nukes in modern-day America, but is anyone really afraid of an invasion?  Of global North Korean domiance?  Of course not.  Hence, the premise of this remake falls flat on its face.

Be that as it may, I figured that the writers would at least attempt to concoct some sort of backstory showing how North Korea magically became a world power.  I mean, maybe they allied themselves with an aggressive China and received a boatload of invasion support as a result, sort of like how the original Red Dawn dealt with Cuban soldiers invading alongside Russians.  Or maybe they reformed their nation along Chinese lines, and in combination with a technological renaissance, became a regional powerhouse.  Or something.  Anything!  Come on guys, give us something to work with!  But no.  Instead, all we get are some stock news clips of the Three Horsemen of the Moron Apocalypse - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Uncle Joe Biden - denouncing the November Kilos' real world aggression, and some confused reference about North Korea joining some Asian league and, viola, they are a powerhouse.  Huh? 

[BTW: what did I tell you about it "all going to hell when Hillary shows up"?  When I saw these clips, I immediately knew that there was no hope for this movie.  I mean, not only does it show an Obama Cult mentality - as if the North Korean problem only began with the Obama administration - but there is also nothing lazier than using stock news footage to set up a plot.] 

From there the movie stumbles its way into the actual invasion of Spokane, Washington (sorry, Colorado), again involving paratroopers.  However, unlike the original, this movie has some cool - if wildly unrealistic - CGI of troop transports filling the skies...strangely American-looking transports at that (but more on this later).  For a moment I thought just maybe the CGI could save this film by using modern FX to bring this invasion alive in a way the original could not due to the limitations of the day.

Nope.

I think the entire FX budge of this film was blown on this one scene because it would be the last time the movie used any type of noteworthy CGI.  And it was all downhill from here.  Waaaaay downhill.

Take, for example, this:




No, that isn't the US Army rushing to the rescue (come to think of it, the US Army was completely absent from this film.  Along with the USAF, Navy, Marines...again, more on that later).  This is, in fact, a North Korean Humvee.   Later on you will also get to see a North Korean M1 Abrams MBT.  That's right, this movie was so lazy in its portrayal of a foreign invasion of America that the director actually used American military equipment for the invaders!  LOL!  I know what you are thinking:  "Maybe this is supposed to represent captured American equipment?"  I might have swallowed this but for that fact that NK Humvees were present in the first moments of the invasion.  So, unless the NKs managed to capture tons of American equipment (even tanks!) and squirrel them away somewhere for what had to be months prior to the actual invasion, no, that excuse just doesn't work.

Compare this to the great deal of effort Mr. Milius and his team put into creating a believable invading Soviet army.  For example, one T-72 replica was so authentic that according to Soldier of Fortune magazine: "while it was being carted around Los Angeles, two CIA officers followed it to the studio and wanted to know where it had come from." 

An example of the Soviet replicas used by Milius in the original Red Dawn


And you can see this laudable attempt at authenticity throughout the film.  That is what makes the Soviet invasion so powerful: seeing "alien" war machines rolling up your street tends to make for a pretty powerful impression, but not so much when the enemy is using National Guard surplus gear. I was really dumbfounded when I realized the movie was really going to go down this route.  And I just knew it was a harbinger for worse thing to come.

Sure enough, worse things do come because we soon discover that this version of World War III (can we call a NK invasion 'World War III'?  No, we cannot) will revolve around a vendetta between Chris Hemsworth's bland Jed Eckert and Will Yun Lee's North Korean Captain Cho.  That's right, a continental invasion is underway...and it soon becomes all about a single NK captain and his efforts to capture an unremarkable gang of teenagers.  Wow!  This is war writ LARGE!  I was actually laughing out loud when Eckert and company escape from a neighborhood cordon only to have Captain Cho and his men pursue them in a high speed chase!  What, a full scale invasion is on and Captain Cho has nothing better to do but chase a truck full of teenagers? Really?!? *facepalm*

Unfortunately, this is a problem that will dog this dog of a movie throughout.  The totality of this "war" is reduced to about a dozen kids on one side, and about twenty North Koreans and their Captain Cho on the other.  Apparently that is all it takes to invade America!  As a result, the movie is content to merely portray a bunch of by-the-numbers gunfights where Wolverines are able to walk into Spokane at will and launch all sorts of highly unlikely attacks involving little more than AK-74s and some explosives.  There is absolutely no sense of scale to this invasion of America.  In fact, it comes to resemble little more than a bad week in Chicago. 

Granted, the original Red Dawn didn't have very many more soldiers on the screen at any one time, but it did occasionally show a war with a much bigger canvas. We got to see Soviet Mi-8 Hinds (I believe a converted AĆ©rospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon) and various types of armored vehicles (BMPs and BTRs) prowling the countryside and city streets.


A faux Mi-8 used in the original Red Dawn


We don't get to see it, but the movie suggests a dogfight, one that lands Powers Boothe's Lt. Col. Tanner into the Wolverines.  We did get to see an actual American fighter jet drop napalm on some Soviet troops hiding in a distant treeline, along with a subsequent tank duel. And in the early moments of the invasion, we even got to see a US helicopter gunship blow apart a Soviet armored roadblock.  Unlike the remake, Red Dawn 1984 does show war writ LARGE.  Battles, real battles, are being fought, and not just by the Wolverines.  You get a real sense of a massive calamity from the original film, sort of like H. G. Wells War of the Worlds.. And unlike the remake, Milius' war won't be resolved by capturing some communication gear because he knows wars aren't won by a single band of guerrillas in a massive conflict. 

Oh, did I forget to mention the comm gear set-up?  Oh yeah, this movie isn't immune from Hollywood's obsession with a quick fix to every problem, even in war.  Unlike the original film that actually provided a rather realistic portrayal of guerrillas fighting a war they cannot hope to win alone, this movie suddenly introduces - without much explanation, for that matter - a NK mystery communications box that the good guys really need...for some reason that remains unclear.  And guess what?  Captain Cho just happens to carry it around with him at all times...which is strange seeing how in one scene it appears to be wired to the floor by three bundles of cable that span an entire building.  Hmm... 

This is going to take...well, really just another routine saunter in Spokane and a few more rounds from a AK to get it.  Nonetheless, it is a good thing some "retired" Green Berets just happen to stumble upon this new gang of misfit Wolverines.  That's right - Powers Boothe's airforce pilot is nixed for three spec ops, understandable since this Red Dawn is strictly about Call of Duty-styled gunfights (I do give this movie credit for a CoD reference, though:  When the Wolverines are discussing what they miss, one says "Call of Duty." Another kid replies: "Dude we're living Call of Duty... It sucks."  Ha!).  Interestingly, we get to learn from these fellas that the Russians also invaded the East Coast...for reasons that are never mentioned.  We also learn that unlike the nuking of America by the Soviets in the original film, the NKs used "conventional warheads" in striking certain communication centers.  I, for one, found it strange how this movie seems to suggest that nuke fanatical North Korea would eschew using nuclear warheads during a continental invasion.  Really?  Just another incoherent plot point from this movie....

Of course, now that we have a bunch of grups in the mix, we get to see the Wolverine kids make fools out of them by effortlessly jumping out of windows and doing all all sorts of other heroics that the spec ops just can't match because they are just soooo old - yup, here comes another juvenile fantasy from Hollywood.  Compare this to the original where the "dumb kids" are schooled to be better soldiers by the middle-aged Tanner.  Can this movie do anything right?

So, the Wolverines saunter into Spokane again, right into the freaking HQ of the all powerful Captain Cho (lord, if one captain is this central to an invasion, I would hate to meet a NK general!) and some more bullets are fired, and a single North Korean M1 tank smashes its way into a building so it can use its machine gun, and some other stupid stuff happens and that is pretty much Red Dawn 2012

Seriously.  I mean, when the movie suddenly (mercifully?) ends, you are left with this vacuous feeling between your ears because you suddenly realize that this was a remarkably pointless film with absolutely no payoff or redeeming qualities whatsoever. The original at least had something to say about the fruitlessness of war, and the virtues of patriotism, not to mention just being a wonderfully competent action flick.  This movie simply had no discernible message and was little more than another violent fantasy from Hollywood, one thrown together on a dime and put into theaters so as to scam a few more bucks from people who still haven't learned what a big joke Hollywood has become these days. 

What a waste.  Like I wrote above, I was more than willing to watch an updated Red Dawn.   There are so many ways to portray something as unthinkable as an invasion of America that the imaginative mind would have trouble limiting the exciting possibilities.  But no.  Instead we get this mess of a rip-off that couldn't even follow the original formula without screwing up big time, let alone coming up with something fresh and better suited to the 21st Century. 

It is no exaggeration to say that I suffered through this movies 90-odd minute span.  It was that bad.  In fact, it made me weep for the memory of the original Red Dawn.  And believe me when I say that I have only begun to scratch the surface of everything that is wrong with this film.  I mean, I could have still mentioned the idiotic dialogue, the completely flat characterizations, the Hunger Games rip-off ending, the weirdly incongruous editing, the ham-handed efforts to squeeze in some tributes to the original film, the kids keeping their cellphones on during their guerrilla activities, the effects of an EMP attack that last for less than 24 hours (and only seems to effect the lights),  and on and on and on.  Really, this movie deserves the full treatment from Mystery Science Theater as it is that bad and amateurish.   In fact, seeing how Nickelodeon's Josh Peck is one of the lead stars in this film, I am starting to wonder if this wasn't a Nickelodeon production because this movie definitely has more in common with Jake & Josh then it does with the original classic film of the same name.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to end this review and go hug my Red Dawn (1984) Collector's Edition DVD



Score: 1/5 stars (subtract a star if you loved the original)


PS:  When shown the script for this awful remake of Red Dawn, Milius hit the proverbial nail on the head.  His reaction:  "It was terrible."

It certainly was....

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