North Koreans knocking down the door in ‘Red Dawn’

By Roger Moore  MCT – Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios
A scene from “Red Dawn.”
  • Chris Hemsworth (from left), Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise in “Red Dawn.”
    ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios )
    Chris Hemsworth (from left), Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise in “Red Dawn.”

  • Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”
    ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios )
    Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”

  • Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”
    ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios )
    Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”

  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”
    ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios )
    Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”

  • Adrianne Palicki and Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”
    ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios )
    Adrianne Palicki and Chris Hemsworth in “Red Dawn.”

  • Connor Cruise and Josh Hutcherson in “Red Dawn.”
    ( Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios )
    Connor Cruise and Josh Hutcherson in “Red Dawn.”

Movie review

2 1/2 (out of five stars)

Director: Dan Bradley

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

What did you think?: Offer your opinion of the film.

‘Red Dawn” is a lot funnier than you remember.

This remake is based on 1984’s Reagan-era rah-rah movie about rural footballers who run Russian invaders and their Cuban and Nicaraguan surrogates out of America. The new “Red Dawn” dispenses with a lot of that red-meat “reds” scariness and settles into a solid if silly action picture about what happens after the North Koreans invade.

Stop laughing.

A brisk news montage under the opening credits, featuring snippets of stories about global financial collapse, rogue-state cyber-warfare programs, Obama and Biden warning about this threat or that foreign policy challenge, does all that any “Red Dawn” could ever do to make this plausible. Yes, the North Koreans have a huge army and a government bent on creating global chaos. No, it won’t help the movie to worry about how they could transport that army to the Pacific Northwest.

That’s where ex-jock/current Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave, visiting his widowed police chief dad (Brett Cullen) and ball-hog quarterback younger sibling Matty (Josh Peck), when the paratroopers tumble in. “North Korea — it doesn’t make any sense.”

But stuntman-turned-director Dan Bradley doesn’t sit still long enough for that to sink in. In a jerky and jarring shaky-cam escape sequence, the Eckert brothers and assorted friends and hangers-on — the tech nerd (Josh Hutcherson), the mayor’s son (Connor Cruise), assorted jocks and cheerleaders — head for the hills. Or the mountains. That’s where they plot America’s comeback.

“We inherited our freedom,” preaches Jed, who literally towers over the others. “Now it’s up to all of us to fight for it.”

The original “Red Dawn” was co-written and directed by John Milius, a primal-violence primitivist and true believer when it came to the Soviet menace. His movie had a scruffy, lived-in “Friday Night Lights”-meets-“Lord of the Flies” aura about it: rural kids comfortable with guns improvising their way to getting comfortable shooting Russians and Cubans. The new “Dawn” has the Thor-size Marine teach city kids insurgent warfare. Not better, just different.

The original film was weepy — ex-jock Patrick Swayze mourning his father (Harry Dean Stanton), who had the best line not repeated here: “Avenge me, boys!” It had Jennifer Grey risking her neck and dying a good death. Here, it’s mushy-centered self-absorbed Peck trying to free his imprisoned cheerleader girlfriend (Isabel Lucas). The new “Dawn” doesn’t have the moist-eyed heart that a true believer might have given it.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the real soldier who stumbles into their midst (Powers Boothe played that role in the original). Will Yun Lee is the hapless North Korean captain chasing these “Wolverines,” insurgents who take their high school mascot’s name into combat. One area in which the remake matches the original is in school spirit, cheerleading every ambush. It’s a real crowd-pleaser.

And it betters the first film with every firefight, every improvised explosion. Bradley auditions for a future “Die Hard” here. And passes.

Which is about where “Red Dawn” lands, a passing grade. Then and now, it doesn’t pay dividends to think too hard about how what happens, happens. If you need a villain, sometimes you’ve got to build him up to make it seem plausible.