The original “Red Dawn” starred a young Patrick Swayze as the put-upon head of a group of teenage freedom fighters forced to defend their small Colorado community after it’s invaded by evil Soviets. The movie had a great premise and a wonderfully scary opening sequence, in which a high school looks on in horror as parachuting Russkies descend upon their football field with rifles in tow. Then, Swayze and clan (which included Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell) fled to the woods and the movie became one laughably overwrought moment after another.
The remake is pretty much the same in terms of premise, except the Soviets have been replaced by North Koreans and the dopiness has been replaced by lots of thrilling, explosive action. The new “Dawn” goes for a much more realistic tone, save for some tepid sibling rivalry between brothers Chris Hemsworth (in the Swayze role) and the whiny Josh Peck, and it is buoyed by better direction and a script that recognizes the humor in the movie’s ridiculous premise.
This “Dawn” does take a few liberties with the original that amp up the suspense, including a totally different final third, but what really makes it stand out is its quality of acting. Hemsworth is much more believable holding an assault rifle than Swayze was, and the female characters here are oceans less annoying than Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson were in the original.
“Red Dawn” is efficient entertainment, so quick and to-the-point that it barely breaks the 90-minute mark before its over (one more way it triumphs over the original — it doesn’t overstay its welcome). It’s still a far from perfect film — even with its brevity, the gun battles get a little redundant — but as mindless, dopey teen action/adventures go, it gets the job done better than most.
★★½ (out of ★★★★)
Rated PG-13 for some pretty intense violence, language and underage drinking. 93 minutes.
Director: Dan Bradley. Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck.