Red Dawn

Release Date: TBA 2011
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Could anyone be cooler than these guys? I think not.

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64/169 Max Braden This is a decent action piece and remake, but nothing beats a classic.

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Confession time: I have not seen the original Red Dawn but once, upon its release on videocassette in the mid-1980s. I recall being freaked out by the scenario, but let’s be honest. I was eight. The world at large seemed to be an infinitely scary place, what with all this talk about nuclear annihilation, stand-offs with the Soviet Union, and an ever-increasing number of movies concerned with the graphic depiction of the physical and emotional damage that would be wrought in the aftermath of World War III. Whether it was fictional or breaking news on the Today Show, all systems seemed to indicate, “Go! End of World!” Even tucked away in a woody enclave as I was, and being a relatively well-adjusted and even happy kid, I think I soaked in a lot of this paranoia and barely-controlled hysteria and it kept me worried.

Red Dawn is as much an artifact of this time as any Cold War-related feature, but with just enough of a nightmare twist to keep it somewhat relevant and make it more than the “Brat Pack makes Commies see Red” dis that a plot synopsis might suggest. As helmed by John Milius - whose resume encompasses writing and/or directing credits on testosterone-fueled projects as far-flung as 1941, Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian, and the TV series “Rome” - Red Dawn has lingered in the public consciousness perhaps because it was conceived by someone with a sense of vision, rather than a B-level action director looking for a drive-in sized hit.

In my mind, though, Red Dawn is the “Video Killed The Radio Star” of the cinema world. There is a certain level of trivia and nostalgia associated with it and I feel like this has contributed to its longevity as much as anything. It was the first film to be released with the PG-13 rating, in August 1984, and finished at #1 its opening weekend, pulling in just over $8 million on its way to a final gross of almost $40 million. For all those teens who had been sneaking into R-rated movies all these years, here was the promise of something they could see on their own that hadn’t been cursed with the more family-friendly G or PG rating. Considering that the MPAA always seems to have a much tougher time with incidents related to sex than to those concerned with violence, perhaps it’s fitting that the first official PG-13 out in the market was a violent shoot ‘em up with a message (and not say, a coming of age tale like The Flamingo Kid, which was in fact the first feature to receive the new rating.)

So anyway, three months before Reagan and GHW Bush swept back into the White House on their “Morning in America” theme, Milius presented a different take on a new day in the United States, one which Reagan himself could probably agree with (both the paranoid nightmare of the premise and the jingoistic insurgency that aimed to bring it down.) Red Dawn imagined a Communist invasion rather than annihilation and looked at a rag-tag group of Colorado teens that fight back. The premise seems more than faintly ludicrous then as now, but by taking it seriously and crafting it with skill, Milius wound up with more than just a teenybopper bang bang (a la Young Guns or Toy Soldiers.)

None of which goes any further towards explaining if a Red Dawn remake is needless, pointless, or just really misguided (outside of possibly making some accountants happy.) MGM doesn’t have a lot on its plate franchise-wise these days, and what can one do but zip through the studio archive list from A to Z and see what can be touched up and made shiny and new? With an announced budget of $75 million (or twice what the original grossed!), it seems that the Studio that Roars will not be skimping on explosions and action, but what will it all amount to? The current economic/political/cultural climate may actually play into the film’s favor and those tired of having dramas about the Iraq War and the war on terrorism “forced” upon them may rejoice at once again having a fantasy conflict in which the USA is the wronged party and we can rise up and defeat a common enemy.

And who is the invading nation this time around? China. (It must be hard for writers of action films what with so few international go-to villains left that are politically correctly permissible and who still might conceivably want to slap us around.) The setting has been moved from Colorado to Spokane, WA and the leader of the teens fighting back is a hometown boy just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. With his combat training, he militarizes the group, which includes his younger brother, the high school football team’s QB, to rise up against the invaders and in doing so become a beacon of inspiration from sea to shining sea. Or something to that effect.

Much as the original can now boast of having future stars Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson in its ranks, this year’s model is stacked with up-and-comers who may have “future sitcom star” stamped on their forehead. Chris Hemsworth stars as the elder brother. He has played Kirk’s dad and is filming Thor and the Joss Whedon hor-com The Cabin in the Woods so his star is already set to ascend. Josh Peck - the QB - has moved steadily up the children’s programming ranks in the last decade (The Amanda Show, Drake and Josh, two of the Ice Age movies) so this marks his induction into the ranks of teenage action hero. And the female lead, that of the quarterback’s kidnapped girlfriend, goes to Isabel Lucas, last seen looking all kinds of glassy-eyed dead as she attempted to do unspeakable robot things to Shia LaBeouf in Transformers: ROTF. Oh yes, and Tom Cruise’s son Connor stars as well. Maybe next he and Jaden Smith can team up for a remake of a 1990s TV show?

On the behind the scenes front, the script comes courtesy of Jeremy Passmore (his first major credit) and Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye, Disturbia, last year’s Last House on the Left) with acknowledgment also given to the original by Milius and Kevin Reynolds. Dan Bradley, a second unit director and stunt coordinator since the days when the first Red Dawn was released, steps into the director’s chair for the first time. His recent stunt credits, out of 150+, include The Bourne Ultimatum, Crank, Spider-Man 3, and . . . Art School Confidential? I’m not sure if that has any bearing on his talent for this project, but putting that in print made me feel a little happier. (Brett Beach/BOP)

Vital statistics for Red Dawn
Main Cast Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson
Supporting Cast Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Director Dan Bradley
Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore, Vincent Newman, Tony Gilroy
Distributor MGM
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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