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Nordling On RED DAWN! Fantastic Fest 2012!

Nordling here.

See that poster above? See how generic and unremarkable it is?  That really about sums it up.

No one was ever going to claim that John Milius's original RED DAWN was ever some kind of classic.  It was very much a product of its time, a time when people were legitimately a little scared about the United States and the U.S.S.R.  This was before Gorbachev and the sweeping changes that affected Russia, and it wasn't on the level of hysteria that it was in the 1950s, when "Duck and Cover" was all the rage, but I remember when the original came out that we would imagine scenarios if the impossible ever became possible.  It was just a fantasy, to be sure, but it was on people's minds.  I remember after the nuclear war movie THE DAY AFTER came on television and how it was certainly something to consider.

The original movie is also not without its charms, from its earnest patriotism to C. Thomas Howell's rage-filled performance.  There was something scrappy and rough about RED DAWN, and it also didn't hurt that it was a veritable who's who of teen stars of the time.  John Milius intended RED DAWN to be an R-rated action movie, so when it became the first movie to be released under the PG-13 banner, I remember every kid on the block flocking to see it to see just how "dangerous" it was.  That nostalgia for RED DAWN goes a long way towards its success.

The remake, of course, is banking on that nostalgia to get the audiences to come.  Notoriously left on the shelf for three years after the MGM bankruptcy, the longer it stayed there, the less relevant the movie became.  The Chinese enemy became the North Koreans because that was an easier enemy to portray since we're very much in bed with China these days.  And some of the actors have gone on to better things, like Chris Hemsworth.  But I doubt sticking RED DAWN on a shelf for only a month would have helped it.  It's a bland, dull action movie in a world full of bland, dull action movies, and the unique charm of the original has been completely stripped from it.

Jed Eckert (Hemsworth) is back in his hometown with his father Tom (Brett Cullen) and brother Matt (Josh Peck).  When the North Koreans invade - with the help of a new EMP weapon that completely shuts down the US defenses, Jed, Matt, Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Daryl (Connor Cruise), Erica (Isabel Lucas) and others take to the hills.  Matt is obsessed with getting his girlfriend Toni (Adrienne Palicki) back, and constantly butts heads with Jed in his efforts to do that.  Jed's a Marine, and so with his skills and the power of the montage, manages to train these kids into a crack insurgent cell, aimed at striking at the heart of the North Korean invasion and the evil plans of Captain Lo (Will Yun Lee).  Even with the help of Colonel Andy Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), these "Wolverines" must figure out a way to shut down the North Koreans' new weapon if the United States has a chance to defeat the invading force.

That plot plays as generic as it reads.  Again, the original film is no classic, but it does have a sense of itself and a certain "special" personality that goes a long way towards giving it charm.  The Wolverines in the original were never all that skilled to begin with, winning many of its engagements on pure luck and the element of surprise.  Not so in the CALL OF DUTY era (which one of the characters stupidly comments on; the movie tries to be as self-aware as the original but just comes off as dumb), where kids that have never fired a weapon before become amazingly accurate and badass.  It also doesn't help that director Dan Bradley, who was the stunt coordinator on the BOURNE films, subscribes to that shaky-cam aesthetic that plagues so many action movies these days.

If there's anything good to be taken out of RED DAWN, it's Chris Hemsworth's performance.  I don't think anyone told him that he's in another routine actioner, because he really does play from the heart.  Unlike all the other actors, with the exception of Jeffrey Dean Morgan who seems aware of how silly all of this is, Hemsworth takes the part seriously and gives RED DAWN much of what little spirit the movie has.  With the roles he's taken since RED DAWN, it's become pretty obvious that Hemsworth has that special something about him that's apparent in his work, even in movies like SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN.  If he's to become Hollywood's Next Big Thing, it certainly helps that he's quite a good actor.  Hemsworth almost brings RED DAWN around singlehandedly, but you can't fight the tides, and the blandness of RED DAWN comes in like a tsunami.

Seeing RED DAWN at an event like Fantastic Fest does stack the odds against it.  This Fest is full of amazing genre films, from across the planet, full of unique viewpoints and new talent.  With the exception of RED DAWN, even the movies I didn't particularly care for had a unique spin on things.  RED DAWN fell like a thud for me by comparison, but I think it's a pretty terrible movie regardless of the other movies I've seen here.  After a movie like I DECLARE WAR, which at least takes its action thematically seriously, seeing kids run around with automatic weapons on Hollywood's dime loses much of its charm.  RED DAWN is film as vaporware - there's mostly nothing significant or remarkable about it.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

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