Fantastic Fest Review: Red Dawn


On the last day of Fantastic Fest, I got to be part of the first audience to see a three-year old movie. Okay, I’m exaggerating. Red Dawn was shot in 2009, but the delays only started two years ago. I’m just hoping it does well so I can pitch my own sequel, Fred Dawn, where terrorists take over Fantastic Fest and I take them out one by one and save the day.

The opening credits of the Red Dawn remake feature actual news clips of President Obama and newscasters talking about the economic crisis and North Korea’s transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. It’s an easy, if shorthanded, way to establish a country that was not referenced during principal photography. We’ll never know if the original version opened with news clips talking about China.

Matt (Josh Peck) is the star player on The Wolverines football team. His brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth) returns from Iraq and they have conflict, but Jed’s battle skills come in handy when North Korea invades their town. Matt and Jed get away with a few other high schoolers and end up surgically striking the North Koreans so hard that The Wolverines become a significant rebel force.

The invasion sequence is awesome. Director Dan Bradley actually lets us see the action. The paratroopers, big explosions and car crashes are glorious, like an ‘80s style orgy of destruction. That’s why it’s so disappointing that Bradley switches to shaky cam for the rest of the film’s action. It’s not as bad as the Bourne sequels or Hunger Games, for example; the action is still good but Bradley showed such a strong sense of action in the invasion, it’s disappointing he didn’t keep it up. Perhaps the thematic reason is that once the Wolverines go into the forest, it’s grittier. That would be silly though because nothing’s more thematically honest than actually seeing what the characters are doing.

The Wolverines are able to take out a lot of Chine… er, Koreans with their strategy and traps. Yes, they do the classic trap from the original Red Dawn. One thing I like is that the film never questions teenagers’ ability to fight a war. Matt and Jed’s dad even tells them to go to war, where most parents in real life or movies would just say stay safe. These are 17-year-olds, with maybe one 20-something.

The use of montage to show training and planning is welcome. I love when they have to make supply runs. A particular product placement is a fun reference to the creature comforts we miss when we’re living off the land. The Wolverines do seem to get around their occupied town pretty easily for the most part. They only engage with the enemy when they intend to. But, I’m not really looking for accurate military strategy. I want to see kids kick ass and they do.

So the switch from China to North Korea in post-production would be seamless to anyone who doesn’t know how movies are made. We of course can tell when off camera lines are ADR’d, but there must have been a lot of CGI to make all the signage Korean. There is one shot where Capt. Cho (Will Yun Lee) is spelled Choi on a nameplate.

The film starts to plod, despite its lean 90-95 minute running time. It seems this cut has been pared down to get to each action scene as quickly as possible, which is for the best since the characters are pretty obvious. Volatile Matt, emotionally distant Jed, nerdy Robert (Josh Hutcherson) who has the hardest time learning to hunt. The film tells you who’s going to be trouble and cause infighting, and the superficial bonding banter is weak. Robert is actually hardly in the movie. They must not have shot enough footage with Hutcherson to fill him into the movie more. Next time, plan ahead, guys.

I was impressed however that some teenagers die in this Red Dawn. Good kids and bad kids, I admire a film with the balls to do that.

Red Dawn is perfectly good fun, and all the reshoots and retooling that befell it don’t impact the final cut in any meaningful way, except for the racist assumption that Chinese actors are interchangeable for Korean characters. I’m guessing there was a longer version at one point, but this version works a high concept spectacle. Help me get #FredDawn trending on Twitter!