Red Dawn is bloodless and brainless but not too bad

When the original Red Dawn hit theatres at the tail end of the Cold War its premise of a full-scale invasion of the U.S. by Soviet troops wasn’t exactly realistic but it was at least timely. Twenty-eight years later terrorist cells and Islamofascism are the global bogeymen of choice but don’t tell the makers of this new Red Dawn . For them a new Red menace — North Korea this time — is the big threat Russia is still sinister and terrorism doesn’t even warrant a mention.

It’s pretty clear then that this new Red Dawn isn’t trying to capture the current zeitgeist. It’s not a political fable no matter how much some factions will want to claim it as one. It’s an exercise in teenage machismo that uses politics as its jungle gym a survivalist fantasy where being good at high school football and Call of Duty translates into the potential to be a real-life freedom-fighter. At least the remake pumps up the verisimilitude by making one of its young rebels a marine instead of just an awesome dude. Though to be fair to the original that dude was Patrick Swayze.

This time around the Swayze role goes to Chris Hemsworth ( The Avengers ). The blue-eyed heartthrob plays Jed Eckert an Iraq War veteran visiting his family in Spokane between missions. He’s barely been there a day when enemy troops parachute into town rounding up key citizens and locking shit down. Jed manages to escape along with his brother Matt (Josh Peck) and a group of high schoolers whose names you’ll forget within 15 minutes. One inspirational speech and a decently fun training montage later and they’ve become the Wolverines blowing up checkpoints and saving pretty cheerleaders from internment camps.

Those action sequences are by far the film’s best bits with an urgency that director Dan Bradley (a stuntman making his directorial debut) can’t sustain during the characters’ downtime. Hemsworth aside emotions beyond fear and anger don’t really hit home and a late attempt to introduce some comic relief could hardly be more misguided. Still watching the heroes using their guerrilla tactics against their pinko overlords is just as satisfying as it should be which is all a Red Dawn remake should need.

To its credit Red Dawn actually acknowledges that its heroes are using terrorist tactics with Jed comparing the Wolverines to the mujahedeen and Iraqi insurgents. Again though any movie that’s willing to change the nationality of its villains in post-production clearly isn’t making a grand statement on global realpolitik. Red Dawn did just that when its producers realized the Chinese market might not take kindly to being portrayed as communist occupiers even if it’s only in a hypothetical future. Capitalism wins yet again.