One if by land and two if by sea?

If only the citizens of Spokane, WA had that much warning before their skies were darkened by a thousands of North Korean paratroopers in Dan Bradley’s remake of the cult classic Red Dawn.

The film shares the same basic plot as the original – a smallish town falls victim to a surprise attack orchestrated by an invading force and the only residents who avoid captivity are a ragtag group of high school students.  The big difference is that this time the small town is Spokane, WA instead of Calumet, CO and the baddies are North Korean instead of Russian  (with the exception of a Lundgren-esque Spetznaz Commander presumably included to satisfy those of you nostalgic for the Cold War.)

Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth,) a Marine on leave from Iraq, subjects the kiddos to an intense guerilla warfare training montage and before long a stalwart group of insurgents is born.  Under Eckert’s leadership, the unit, which operates under the moniker “The Wolverines” after their high school’s mascot, wreaks havoc on the North Korean forces in occupied Spokane, providing a healthy dose of guilt free action adventure that’s become increasingly rare in an era where comic book source material and special effects rule the box office.

Veteran stunt coordinator and second unit director Dan Bradley delivers solid action sequences and a well put together, if slightly rough around the edges, final product in his feature helming debut. Sure it verges on cheesy and overly melodramatic at times but this is after all a remake of Red Dawn we’re talking about – anyone who goes to this flick looking for some sort of cinematic fulfillment needs to do a heavy duty overhaul of their pop-culture sensibilities. It’s a series of testosterone filled set pieces strung together with a tolerable dramatic arc and occasional moments of self-reflective humor – and I mean that in the best way possible.

Performance wise, Hemsworth runs the show and comes one step closer to convincing me that he is in fact the long awaited answer to the action hero drought that everyone keeps saying he is.  This may be premature, but I’m gonna go ahead and call it now: move over conflicted anti-heroes and effete-new-millennium-girly-man-underdogs, the self-righteous badass is coming back… with a vengeance.

Other highlights include awesome but brief supporting performances by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kenneth Choi as former Marines who have come out of retirement to take on the invading forces, Josh Hutcherson as a gun shy wuss who eventually learns the real meaning of the phrase “today is a good day to die,” and Adrianne Palicki who brings some spunk and looks good with a heavy machine gun slung over her shoulder.

In fact, pretty much everyone in the cast handles their roles nicely except for Josh Peck who ruins most of the scenes he’s in by over acting (his fault) and simply not fitting the tough guy, lone wolf, football stud character that he’s supposed to be (whoever decided to cast the kid from Drake and Josh in a role originated by Charlie Sheen’s fault.)

Still, the number of explosions, rounds fired, etc make it easy to overlook Peck’s shortcomings and render his shoddy performance a more or less isolated failure. This remake definitely isn’t for everyone, and whether or not it was warranted in the first place is certainly up for debate, but at the end of the day, for fans of those sort of awesomely bad action elements that made the original film a minor pop-culture phenomenon, it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

3.5/5 Stars

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