Josh Peck, left, Josh Hutcherson and Chris Hemsworth star in "Red… (Ron Phillips, Film District )
A remake of the 1984 film of the same name, the new "Red Dawn" arrives in theaters following years of delays involving bankruptcy and a switch of the film's central villains from the Chinese to North Koreans. If the original, with its premise of American teenagers fighting off a Russian invasion, was something like "The Outsiders Fight Back" steeped in last-gasp Cold War anxiety, this update never finds an equivalent relevance or hook, failing to connect fully with our here and now.
While a foreign regime exerting its emergent power over America certainly has a familiar ring to it, if anything, this new "Red Dawn" is a movie in search of its moment.
North Korean forces supported by Russia — apparently safe again as go-to bad guys — have taken control of both coasts while a stretch of the country from Michigan to Montana, Alabama to Arizona remains known as Free America. That those are mostly Red States seems not at all coincidental, and it is even possible to imagine the film as being conceived somewhere along its prolonged gestation as a dramatization of the "take America back" rhetoric of the tea party in its ascendancy.
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The group of Washington state youngsters who hole up outside town to operate as an insurrectionist force known as the Wolverines (after their high school mascot) includes a pre-"Thor" Chris Hemsworth, a pre-"Hunger Games" Josh Hutcherson and Hollywood offspring Connor Cruise.
At one point two of our insurgents duck into a doorway to take cover from a firefight and realize they are in a Subway sandwich franchise, open for business and full of customers. The moment is a shock, to them and to the audience, as the idea of life functioning with some semblance of normalcy under occupation isn't otherwise much grappled with. The kids stick the place up for food — "No flatbread!" — and take off, falling into their new roles as urban guerrillas.
Dan Bradley, a veteran second-unit director responsible for action sequences in such films as "The Bourne Ultimatum," makes his directing debut here and so it's no surprise that a few brief car chases have a visceral crunch. Yet that doesn't explain how some of the bigger set pieces feel undersold and rushed, as if instead of making them centerpieces, Bradley was still thinking someone else would add to them later on.
Seemingly unwilling to fully embrace any position, be it jingoistic patriotism, anti-corporate anger or revolutionary radicalism, the film winds up timid and unfocused. Reasonably dopey fun on its own, the remade "Red Dawn" simply can't stand up to the real-world issues it steps on like a land mine.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: In wide release
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