The opening faux-documentary news-babble montage of the new Red Dawn fires a flurry of accusations at North Korea, rendering Kim Jong-un as much of a nuke-stackin’ loose cannon as his pa. There goes that market! But seriously, if you’re ever in doubt about how bafflingly pointless studio remakes are conceived, rest assured that it is indeed all about markets. When this post-Cold War Red Dawn was actually shot back in 2009 the bad guys were the Chinese; once some PR whiz pointed out that the Chinese spend a lot of dough on American exports Red Dawn was rejiggered so that the Asian invaders originated from a much smaller communist republic, one where the only way anyone’s likely to see this remake is via samizdat DVDs. No doubt it will be regarded as a comedy.
Which is a generous way of categorizing this slab of hoorah, arriving in theatres just in time to function as a balm for disappointed Republicans. The original Red Dawn (1984), co-written and directed by John Milius, his rep still aglow from Apocalypse Now (1979) and Conan the Barbarian (1979), was not exactly a good movie. Okay, it’s ludicrous. But it retains a certain awesome power as a wet dream for the National Rifle Association and time capsule of Regan-era Hollywood. It also scared the shit out of me as a little kid, those first images of jellyfish-like Russian parachutes descending upon the field outside the windows of a high school, and the teacher getting plugged in the guts. Milius may be a right wing propagandist (or not; I’m not so presumptuous as to understand his politics), but he’s also a real filmmaker. His Red Dawn captured something in the mid-80s air, tapped into genuine fears, and allowed a lot of kids fantasize about ditching school, taking up arms, going camping forever, and popping out of hidden pits to kill commies in the name of freedom. “Wolverines!”
Directed by stunt coordinator Dan Bradley and written by Jeremy Passmore and Carl Ellsworth—a go-to guy for remakes, Ellsworth’s already got Disturbia (2007) and The Last House on the Left (2009) under his belt—it’s rather difficult to see how this new Red Dawn speaks either to our times or to our subconscious desire to go guerilla. The performances are more sober than those of Swayze, Sheen, et al, but they’re also way less fun and lack silly hats. The new characters have certain advantages over the originals, such as actual military training, but they seem less emblematic of Milius’ irony-free vision of grass roots survivalist gender-equalizing machismo—these new brothers don’t actually drink the blood of the animals they kill.
“We inherited out freedom,” says one of these new, wearisome Wolverines. “Now it’s up to us to fight for it!” A recruiting slogan if ever there was one, but what flags of freedom are flying in Red Dawn? Look no farther than the best scene in the movie: a pair of hungry Wolverines hide out in an occupied Subway; “Sandwich artist, fill this bag with subs!” one of them demands (an excellent line); they take the bag of fixins back to their fellow vigilantes, who feed on the footlongs in querterbackian ecstasy. This is what American freedom tastes like: Wonderbuns, under-ripe tomatoes and lunchmeat. And you, foolish foreign intruder, will pry them from our cold, dying hands.