During the Cold War summer of 1984, John Milius' "Red Dawn" spun a Commie-invasion scenario about three small-town youngsters -- played by up-and-comers Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell -- who lead a guerrilla rebellion against the pinko trifecta of Russian, Cuban and Nicaraguan aggressors. It was wildly implausible and more than a little jingoistic, but also tough-minded, troubling, even bitter. For all its flaws, "Red Dawn" was a movie with the courage of its convictions.
The remake, arriving at a time when Americans fear sleeper cells more than superpowers, feels like a movie without a cause. It initially portrayed the invaders as Chinese (still Communist, you know), until someone realized that might alienate one of the world's biggest overseas movie markets. The villains were then re-edited into North Koreans (who are presumably too isolated to object).
Recast with contemporary hotties Chris Hemsworth ("Thor"), Josh Hutcherson ("The Hunger Games") and Josh Peck -- all quite serviceable -- "Red Dawn" starts out strong, with a panicky car chase and some rough violence. Adrianne Palicki and Isabel Lucas provide some love interest (a welcome improvement to the undersexed original) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is appealing as Tanner, a grizzled Marine who discovers that the famous rebels called the Wolverines are just a bunch of kids.
Although ably directed by first-timer Dan Bradley, "Red Dawn" consistently goes soft where the original stood firm. Its villains are dehumanized Asians (Will Yun Lee glowers inscrutably as Captain Cho) and its teen heroes make only brave choices, never tough ones. Worse, it invents a silly MacGuffin -- a North Korean wonder-box of some sort -- that our Wolverines try to steal.
As empty entertainment, the movie is almost passable. But what's the point of a brighter, lighter "Red Dawn"?
PLOT When North Korea invades America, a group of teenagers defend its tiny hometown.
BOTTOM LINE Fans of the hard-hitting original may fume over this lightweight remake, though others may tolerate it as a mindless action flick.