Friday, 15 March 2013



Of all the 1980s films you'd expect to get remade post-glasnost, post-Cold War, John Milius' ludicrous Commie-bashing survivalist wank fantasy would hardly be at the top of the list. It's obviously twaddle: a famine-stricken Russia invades Colorado and a bunch of high school kids defeat them. Hiding out in the woods, they transform themselves into a guerrilla force of badasses: blowing things up, shooting the invaders and freeing the hostages. Back in 1984 I vaguely remember enjoying it as a piece of throwaway action movie knockabout with lots of guns and explosions, somewhat in the manner of the V miniseries which had been on ITV earlier in the year. However, watching it again the other night on DVD it really does come across as a screeching anti-Red diatribe written and directed with a massive throbbing hard-on for Uncle Sam and the Second Amendment.

In 1984 the Red Menace and the KGB were the automatic choice for foreign villains in movies: James Bond was taking the USSR on in various escapades until The Living Daylights in 1987, but Rambo III (in which Stallone fights the Russians in Afghanistan and wins) was already historically dated when it came out the following year. But now that they're no longer the (official) enemy, who can fill that role for a shiny new remake? Well, they started out as China but then switched to the North Koreans because [1] China is not really the West's mortal enemy in military terms, and [2] China is a sizeable market for Hollywood movies. Besides, North Korea is clearly run by the kind of delusional whackjobs that make them the kind of screen enemy we can all boo and hiss without really worrying that they're actually coming to get us (or that they'll even see the movie that's insulting them).

So in the new Red Dawn, North Korea (assisted by the Russians) invade Spokane, and the local kids fight back. Some of them see their loved ones die, some cause the deaths of other innocents, but despite being kids they suck it all up and become freedom fighters in their own land, killing and bombing without mercy, without remorse, without much in the way of shock or trauma. It follows many of the same beats as John Milius' film: the older brother taking charge of the group, the tracking device, the "grown-up" soldiers who parachute in and need the Wolverines' assistance, Radio Free America, even the sudden shock killing off of a major character you'd expect to make it to the closing credits.

It's a pity that they spent so long in post-production re-editing the film and CGIing out all the insignia to avoid offending the Chinese - the film was originally finished back in 2009 - but no-one thought to seize that opportunity to make the film significantly less stupid. Even by the original's howlingly crazy standards it's utterly ridiculous: it's vaguely plausible that the USSR had the resources, equipment and manpower to launch an unexpected full-scale land invasion of the USA, but North Korea, a nation that's smaller in square miles than the state of Mississippi? It's nonsense.

On a technical level it could do with settling down a bit: it's directed by Dan Bradley who did all the action stuff in the Bourne sequels (and, calamitously, in Quantum Of Solace) and much of the shooty fighty stuff is hand-held and rapidly overedited to a blur in the modern manner. And Ramin Djawadi's functional score is (obviously) no match for the rousing anthems of Basil Poledouris' original. Of course, that doesn't mean Red Dawn isn't kind of fun in a stupid switch-your-brain-off way, with car chases and things blowing up and hunky blokes firing guns and stuff: it is, but that's not really enough and the stupidity gets in the way.


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