Whatever happened to good old-fashioned jingoism, the days when it was okay to vilify someone just because they were different? Do you ever lie awake wishing we still had a Know Nothing Party (or at least one that hadn’t named itself after a hot beverage)? How about wishing you had a time machine so that you could go back to the days that your grandfather rants about, when xenophobia was respected as the glorious ideal it is?
Obviously I’m kidding, but if you do agree with any of the things I’ve just said, then I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the long delayed release of “Red Dawn,” the remake of the 1984 classic of Cold War paranoia, directed by Dan Bradley. In this apocalyptic paean to why America is just totally better than everyone else, our grand old nation is attacked by hordes of North Korean soldiers bent on endangering our perfect way of life. Because the US military has been crippled by a super powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse), provided to the North Koreans by Russia, the defense of our amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties falls to a band of amateur high school freedom fighters, led by Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, and the less-hot bread-chucking kid from “The Hunger Games.” But what match are these average guerrillas for the impossibly powerful armies of The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive? I guess you’ll have to tune in to find out.
“Red Dawn” is really something to behold: a film that spends millions of dollars to bring to life a hopelessly defunct ideology while still managing to be far too boring to actually offend anyone. I’m sure there will be a lot of talk of how racist this film is, how it perpetuates outdated cultural ideals, and will stick out as a social tumor in this year’s film output. And to a certain degree, all of this is true.
But it’s also a waste of time. To call this film racist is to give it an energy and a sense of purpose that its drab visual layout and bland jumbling of half-assed patriotic rhetoric could in no way sustain. “Red Dawn” is too dumb to be culturally insensitive and too hyperactive to even have the ability to touch on race or any other such topic. To give this film an agenda is to expend more energy analyzing this film than its creators put into making it. That’s certainly not to excuse the film, but to put into context the amount of scorn that it’s actually worth.
As many people know, the original plan for “Red Dawn” was to cast the Chinese as the villains until the studio decided that it wasn’t the best idea to paint a country that the U.S. has such an awkward relationship with as, well, evil (because that’s how the North Koreans are treated here, devoid of nuance). In a way, the fact that the film was going to even attempt to be that topical is baffling, because in its portrayal of both the Americans and their enemy, “Red Dawn” seems to have Rip Van Winkle-d through the last 10 years. It grabs ineffectually at political and military ideas and then just throws them at the screen waiting for something to resonate, with no such luck.
In the original film, it was easy to feel engaged with the conflict on display despite oneself. Sure, you ended the movie kind of hating that you were able to get so wrapped up in such a juvenile portrayal of war, but you could at least be consoled by the abundant camp and the sense that even the filmmakers were poking a little bit of fun at those who might take the film too seriously. In the remake, none of that remains. In its place, the film chooses to meander between larger gray battle scenes that fail to enrage, excite, or even register as anything other than images on a screen. There’s nothing behind it beside the poorly filmed fantasies of a crew that doesn’t get why the film might have a chance to be engaging or why it would inevitably be offensive.
If you’re looking for a good war movie, don’t see “Red Dawn.” If you’re looking for a good action movie, don’t see “Red Dawn.” If you’re looking for a film that aptly stimulates that long dormant hatred of all things different, too long stifled by that oh-so-frustrating open mindedness on campus, don’t see “Red Dawn.” This is just a movie for anyone with a blindfold and earplugs, and anyone who thought Chris Hemsworth was too likable in “The Avengers.” If you can find any sober or unironic pleasure in this movie, it’s not that you’re a bad person, really; you just have bad taste.