It feels unseemly to call the new Red Dawn remake “lobotomized.” John Milius’ 1984 original was a far-right wet dream in which two of the Cold War’s mightiest villains, the Russians and the Cubans, teamed up, Avengers-style, to invade and enslave the United States. And they would have gotten away with it were it not for those meddling, AK-47-wielding kids! But buried underneath the frothing, paranoid fears peddled by Milius–“New Hollywood”’s token feminist-hating NRA blowhard–lurks a genuine integrity and a harsh understanding of the actual, not abstract, costs of war. The key scene finds counter-insurgent teens, the “Wolverines” (played by the Brat Pack) having to deal with a member who turned turncoat. They decide to execute him, but the scene is ugly: No matter how tough they’ve become, it’s still a helluva thing to kill a longtime friend as he pleads for his life.
The counterpart scene here is telling: The apostate is blown to bits by a bomb, but before he’s obliterated, one Wolverine lamely flips him the bird. The waters are not muddied in director Dan Bradley’s reimagining, which offers not a simplistic black-and-white morality so much as a thoughtless one, borrowed not from life but from movies. At one point, the stupid actions of one freedom fighter (Josh Peck) gets the brother of another comrade killed. He broods for 20 seconds, only for all issues to be handily resolved with a flip of the peace sign. The lack of complexity makes Milius look smart—a good reason as any to mark something as a failure.
Red Dawn was famously filmed in 2009 then shelved to, among other things, re-nationalize the villains, who were originally Chinese. Now the baddies are the North Koreans, prompting the never-debunked howler, “North Korea? That doesn’t make any sense!” (Later the Russians swing by, presumably as an homage to the original.) Those who like to snicker at movie conservatism will leave mildly satiated: Our Korean overlords talk in Occupy language, while it’s revealed the only unconquered parts of America are the Midwest, which should make secessionists like Victoria Jackson squee. At least Chris Hemsworth makes a fine Patrick Swayze, oozing unironic ‘80s alpha male swagger. As in Thor, he’s an actor out of time, only here that’s not a joke.