Red Dawn, an updated version of the 1984 Patrick Swayze film of the same name, is an action-packed adventure following a group of American teenagers rebelling against invading Korean troops. Leading the rebels is marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Matt (Josh Peck). After a North Korean invasion, their father is murdered and they gather a group of a dozen or so teens to fight back against the invaders. Other notables in the film include Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), Isabel Lucas (Immortals, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), and a quick cameo performance by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. How does a group of teenagers fare against the entire military force of one of the most formidable countries on Earth? Surprisingly, quite well. How does the story of said teenagers fare? Not as well…
The film opens with a compelling montage of news articles and reports on Korea’s growing strength as the credits fly by. This introduction leaves the audience hoping for a more dramatic and mature approach to the film. These hopes are, sadly, diminished within the first fifteen minutes of the film after a quick introduction to the Eckerts, with Matt portrayed as a careless football star in high school, Jed just returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, and their father, introduced as a police officer. Love interests are introduced for both sons but that’s as deep as the audience can see into the girls’ personalities. The beginning of the invasion is quite sudden and very ridiculous. A shot of hundreds of Korean troops slowly parachuting into suburbia should be threatening but it just looked silly. The Eckerts instantly escape with a handful of teens into the woods where they begin their rebellion and adopt the nickname “Wolverines”. During their escape, the main villain of the film is introduced, Captain Lo, who just seems to hate the Eckerts because they gave him a fender bender. From here, the plot becomes incredibly jumbled, inconsistent and rapid. After maybe one or two minutes of the characters talking, an action sequence quickly inserts itself. This cycle repeats for the entire film: two minutes of talking, ten minutes of action. It becomes overwhelming after a while. The audience doesn’t even get a chance to meet half of the teens and they hardly learn anything more than the superficial about the main characters; there is no character development or even personalities for the characters. The film builds to a very unfulfilling climax, though you can never be sure when the film actually ends since the climax is followed by two minutes talk then ten minutes…well, you get it. Once we finally do reach the very end, we’re left with a suspenseful build up to what may have been the best action sequence of the movie then a cut to black, leaving the audience wanting more.
Overall, my biggest issue with the film was the lack of emotion and character development. Every now and then a character dies and the film wants us to care for them, but it’s so hard to when we never really knew the character in the first place. The director, Dan Bradley, a notable effects coordinator and first-time director, also doesn’t allow the film any time to breathe. By that I mean it is far too choppy: it jumps from an attempt to grasp the emotion of the scene to an action sequence far too quickly. I understand this is an action movie but a good 70% of the film is action, which is far too much in my opinion. Since it’s nearly impossible to connect with these characters, the audience cannot connect with the film and it distances the viewer from the believability of the film (if any). Sure, it’s obviously impossible that a dozen untrained teenagers could defeat even a fraction of the Korean army, but if the film would’ve tried to connect with the audience then it wouldn’t have been such an outlandish idea to believe in. There are moments when the action is quite fun (a certain scene in which two of the kids rob a Subway restaurant comes to mind) but it is for the most part laughable since it seems like the Koreans never fire back. The acting was poor, however, it’s hard to blame the actors when it seemed like the director forced their lines out of them without letting them try to sustain some passion. Hemsworth is just barely passable in his role while the rest of the cast struggles to perform under such weak direction. One of the weakest points of the film is the villain. Captain Lo has few very lines in the film and is barely present at the action sequences until the very end. He is the least developed character in the film, making his death so less dramatic or victorious. The purpose of a good villain is to create a feeling of hatred or fear inside the viewer. I just couldn’t care less whenever I saw him; he was a stereotypical villain, nothing novel or memorable about him. There are a couple of good jokes every now and then and most of the action is quite entertaining regardless of how irrelevantly it fits into the story but these hardly make up for the poor presentation of the story.
The premise of the film is not entirely a faulty one. A group of rebels fighting back against an invading army isn’t exactly an original idea but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. It’s just the way the film was approached that made it bad. Without any emotion to back the two hours of brainless action sequences, it ends up being a confusing jumble of explosions, forgettable characters, and a plot that even Michael Bay could’ve improved on. A couple of fun action scenes and a few chuckle-worthy jokes don’t exactly make up for the lack of acting, a weak script, and a director who demonstrates exactly how NOT to do an action movie. In summation, this film hardly worth the time to watch, it’ll just leave you disappointed in the end.
Red Dawn is now playing in Philly-area theaters.