You could be forgiven for being unaware of just how divorced from reality neoconservative foreign policy is. Maybe trumping up a case for the invasion of Iraq in the wake of September 11 was an isolated case of a rose-tinted analysis leading a generally well-founded strategy astray. Luckily we have a remake of Red Dawn to remind us. From the opening montage of out-of-context stock footage it makes the case that, just like when the original was produced, the Communist Menace is totally still a thing, that North Korea has a military that is not only large but also effective, and that the Russians are just waiting to rise again, like the South will someday. I wish I could say that all of this is the least believable part of the movie.
We find ourselves in Spokane, Washington, where an invasion by North Korea of the Pacific northwest is the least ridiculously implausible, but not quite so, you know, liberal as Seattle or Portland. Accolades are awarded to the high school football quarterback, Matt (Josh Peck), and his cheerleader girlfriend, Erica (Isabel Lucas). Mustangs are good, as are pickup trucks and hunting from the family cabin up in the mountains. Matt indulges his teenage rebellion with impulsivity, substituting his own judgement for that of his father (Brett Cullen), the sheriff, as well as father substitutes like his football coach and his older brother, Jed (Chris Hemsworth), who has just returned from a deployment with the Marines in Iraq.
The first night, the power goes out. The boys wake in the morning to find a sky filled with paratroopers, straight out of a Magritte painting. They escape to the family Gabon along with a bunch of other kids: Toni (Adrianne Palicki), who harbors a crush on Jed, beta males Robert and Daryl (Josh Hutcherson and Connor Cruise), and Julie and Greg (Alyssa Diaz and Julian Alcaraz) whose disposability is all about the fact that they’re from out of town and not at all about their being Hispanic. It’s this group of “Wolverines” — the high school mascot — that will mount an armed resistance movement. America’s salvation will come out of the independent, frontier militia spirit — praise Jesus for the Second Amendment and easy access to unlimited firepower — backed by traditional masculinity and masculine, military authority. It’s a Tea Party wet dream.
Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore’s script is not blissfully ignorant; it recognizes and even highlights the structural analogy between the Wolverines’ insurgency against the occupying Korean forces and the Iraqi insurgency against the occupying American forces. It is instead willfully blind, refusing to countenance the slightest hint of moral equivalence. America is, by definition, in the right in both situations. Beyond that, everything else is canned dialogue and unmotivated plot designed to get us from one fight to another, hoping that they will distract us long enough to let the repugnant ideology slip in under our guard.
There is no redemption to be found in the movie’s production. Director Dan Bradley’s previous career as a stunt man seems to have given him the impression that because he is used to experiencing action scenes in a disorientingly chaotic sensory assault, we must want that as well. There is no narrative flow through the firefights, and no coherent sense of space. All we get is a solid wall of gunfire and explosions blasting through a haze of pure testosterone.
Movies have always been used as vehicles for agitprop. This remake of Red Dawn joins the original in a line that stretches back to The Birth of a Nation. We may take some solace that its amateurism will limit its effectiveness, but that solace is moderated by the knowledge that far too many will still swallow it whole.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.