Monday, December 10, 2012

The Cinema File #56: "Red Dawn" Review

I've never seen the original Red Dawn. I know its supposed to be this seminal 80's movie and as a child of the decade, it should be second nature for me to yell "Wolverines" every time I'm feeling patriotic, but I just don't get it. Okay, that's not true, I understand it, I'm just not the kind of person to which that kind of jingoistic hoorah bullshit appeals to. I like Rocky 4 as much as the next guy, but there are limits to how much I can take. That's why I was hesitant to take on the new Red Dawn remake, and while I can definitely say it exceeded my incredibly low expectations by not sucking as bad as I thought it would, that doesn't exactly mean its particularly good either.

Red Dawn is the story of a group of highschoolers who become a resistance force when North Korea invades America and turns Spokane Washington into a police state. The premise is as ridiculous and implausible as I imagine it was in the original film, but something about even doing this story in this era comes across as a bit icky to me. Looking back on the idea of Russia invading during the Reagan years, the whole concept feels kind of quaint and kitschy in retrospect, but in a post 9/11 landscape, stoking this kind of hornets' nest seems irresponsible, not because it invites threats, but precisely because it encourages the stupidity of those who think this kind of thing could actually happen.

To any reasonable person, this might sound strange, but this is not a movie designed for reasonable people. Red Dawn is a movie that would fit right in to the bubble of epistemic closure that currently motivates the American Right. Obama is the president that fails to stand up against the great terror of North Korea, who can totally mount a successful attack on the U.S. that all but cripples our military, leaving it to an explicitly detailed list of Red States to rise up and take our country back, while all those mealy mouthed liberals presumably either give up or collaborate. Let's just hope these hard fightin' Romney voters don't secede like they claim to want to, in case we need their America lovin' gun power to save us if this ever does actually happen. The good natured cheese I gather surrounds the original has turned to tripe, which I guess I can't blame the producers for, as I can't really think of a way to do this movie any other way in this day and age. Then again, there was always the choice of simply not doing it.

The fact that the heroes become an insurgency trained by an Irag War Veteran in like ten minutes to fight as a team is a bit of multi-layered ironic awesomeness that I'm not sure whether to give the writers credit for or not. It doesn't help knowing the back story of the film's release, that originally the enemy was supposed to be China, but was changed at the last minute with some creative dubbing after the realization that we actually sell movies in China. Considering the right wing conspiracy theories surrounding the country, I'm curious to know how that fact sits with the die hards. I can't help feeling a bit sorry for all the Chinese actors who had to feel bad enough portraying villains when the nationalities matched, let alone when the decision was made to change it, under the (I'm guessing correct) assumption that most Americans can't tell different Asian people apart. Coincidentally, I understand the main bad guy's actor actually is Korean, though I assume he's South Korean, which might be even more offensive under the circumstances. There are so many uncomfortable realities that this movie just seems to raise a middle finger to, in one case literally, when a character stops in the middle of a gunfight to flip off an American collaborator just before blowing up the building he's in.

Eventually, the right wing porn fest gives way to what is a pretty standard action movie, which isn't entirely without its charm. Chris Hemsworth is as charismatic as always, even if a lot of his character development tied to his relationship with his brother feels tacked on and distracting from the main point of blowing shit up real good. The formerly fat kid from Drake and Josh plays a character who keeps making really stupid decisions that everyone else around him pays for, and Jeffry Dean Morgan shows up for all of ten minutes in a role that clearly should have been introduced earlier and expanded, even if it were at the expense of the teen soldier conceit. Still, a lot of the action is engaging and fun to watch (save the last act which gets a little tedious), even if the parts that don't involve gunfire make me sick.

And yeah, they get in the nostalgic Wolverines scream on the rooftop. Is it just me, or is this connection not really earned? Maybe it's different in the original, but all we see of the Wolverines in this is them being a shitty football team that loses (again thanks to the poor decisions of Drake or Josh). There's no explanation for why the group, who I don't think we see as significantly made up of the team members, would take on that name or use it to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. Also, I think this plot is a bit too big for this movie. They try to bring in a macguffin with the potential to turn the tide of war via an inexplicably sci-fi electromagnet bomb, but there's still so much more that would have to be done to liberate the U.S. from these guys considering how successful their infiltration was. The movie doesn't seem to want to deal with this, settling for what I guess was supposed to be an uplifting moment in the end that I just thought fell flat.

I was rarely bored during Red Dawn, which is saying something, but I don't have it within me to get excited about any of it either. I am not above fist pumping away at some good old fashioned pro-America fluff, but in the current political atmosphere, where the whole notion of what is and isn't pro-American has been hijacked by assholes, this just seems like fuel for their fire. Me, I'm sticking with FDR: American Badass, a loving tribute to the greatest liberal president who ever lived, with bigger balls than any of these little twerps ever had.


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