‘Red Dawn’ remake can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be

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By Christopher Harrop

Who are these kids fighting for?
   Is it a jingoistic, hoo-raw fist-pump for America over a foreign invader? Is it about protecting your hometown? Or is it just about keeping your best friends alive?
    For a remake of a semi-classic 1980s flick, “Red Dawn” is a confusing exercise in film watching. Neither a shot-for-shot remake nor a complete re-imagining, it shouldn’t have been difficult to settle on a single vision for this story.

    Whatever the case, this film — starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck and Josh Hutcherson as the core part of a group of Spokane, Wash., young adults who make a stand for their own liberty — may have best been left on the studio’s shelf, where it had been for a few years following MGM’s bankruptcy and resulting backlog of titles held up by business (If Hemsworth & Co. look a bit young compared to their other recent films, it’s because this movie was filmed in 2009).
    Let’s start with the villains. Originally the bad guys where supposed to be Chinese in this iteration, but the film in theaters has been reconfigured to have North Korea to be the aggressor. Lest the filmmakers be accused of exploiting racial stereotypes, the North Koreans are aided by the Russians, regardless of how preposterous this would seem in any stretch of our geopolitical imagination.
    Amplifying that implausibility is the way they invade: Paratroopers mixed with ground forces. That may work for anyone still living in a Cold War mindset, but it seems ridiculous to anyone who follows current events — or plays “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Especially since the film establishes that America’s energy infrastructure has been compromised, the on-screen show of force is a laughable case of overkill. If you could cripple an enemy without firing a single shot, wouldn’t you?
    On top of all of that, it’s never truly clear why all of this is happening. Why is occupation key to the invasion? Why are some people allowed to roam with a degree of freedom in the occupied zone while others are held in a makeshift, Gitmo-style prison at the high school football stadium?
    Mind you, the film doesn’t try to be coherent or smart enough to be a critique of American intervention abroad despite fashioning the guerrilla Wolverines out to be stand-ins for Iraqi insurgents. The nonstop action scenes, mostly shot with blurry, shaky-cam laziness, make “Red Dawn” an all-out war film that doesn’t give us much reason to care about the fighters other than they’re American and the other guys aren’t.
    But perhaps this “Red Dawn” isn’t meant for anyone old enough to remember the original. Given the level of reasoning and intellect on display never eclipses that of boilerplate prep athlete talk (at one point, Hemsworth tries to rally the Wolverines by suggesting they want it more than the invaders), this film seems solely aimed at a young crowd that either wouldn’t know a good movie if they saw it or wouldn’t care if they did.

“Red Dawn” is rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. One star out of four.