By Michael O'Sullivan
The Washington Post
There's good news and bad news about "Red Dawn," a remake of the 1984 action film about high school kids from the American heartland forced to become guerilla warriors when their small town is invaded by foreign troops. I'm happy to report that the amped-up retread, which substitutes North Korean soldiers for the original Soviet bad guys — and a steely Chris Hemsworth for a cheesy Patrick Swayze — is a big improvement.
The bad news is: That's not saying much.
I actually watched the 1984 film not all that long ago, when a collector's edition DVD came out in 2007. It hadn't aged well, and in the shifting light of 21st-century geopolitics, its rabid anti-Communism seemed slightly silly, as did the fake-looking gunplay and explosions.
The new "Red Dawn" starts off pretty scary, actually, as the Pacific Northwest town where it's set wakes up to find its spacious skies filled with aircraft and paratroopers. The scenes that follow — internment camps and summary executions — will be red meat for tea party patriots. Like the documentary "2016: Obama's America," "Red Dawn" hints broadly that the United States has left itself open to occupation through weak foreign policy and squandering of military might.
That will be a tough pill to swallow for some. Others will eat it up, along with the speechifying about how freedom isn't free.
Much of the speechifying comes from Hemsworth's Jed, a brooding Marine on home leave who is left in charge of his brother Matt (Josh Peck) and several of Matt's teenage friends after they slip through the clutches of the brutal North Korean prefect (Will Yun Lee).
Jed quickly recruits the kids to the cause of resistance, and the rest of the film is spent showing their training and tactics as they evolve into a crack squad of freedom fighters. It's moderately good fun, even if it comes with a heaping helping of baloney.
Why the enemy has decided to occupy this sleepy backwater is never terribly clear. There's a suggestion that there may be more going on here for the North Koreans than meets the eye, but the film never delivers on that promise. The far-fetched nature of the occupation is more than a little hard to overlook.
"Red Dawn" briefly picks up when a cadre of retired soldiers (led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) joins the adolescent fighters. The older men bring a refreshing get 'er done attitude to the battle, reminding us of what's at stake (or at least what's supposed to be at stake). The glibness and superficiality of the proceedings never allow us to care deeply about anything or anyone.
Ultimately, the problem with this "Red Dawn" is the same problem with the first. Despite the more realistic battles, nothing feels more fateful than a football game.
Now playing in Cullman.
PG-13. Contains obscenity, gunplay and violence. 94 minutes.