A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Red Dawn is a remake of the 1984 teen-soldier drama. As in the original, there are several battle scenes that feature character deaths (mostly from shooting, but also from explosions and hand-to-hand combat). There's a some strong language ("s--t," "ass," "bitch," and one "f--k") and a couple of passionate kisses, but it's really the body count and some iffy racial issues (all of the minority characters die, and the North Korean enemies were originally Chinese) that are most likely to raise eyebrows. But the movie, especially if seen in conjunction with the original, could still provide some good discussion fodder about the historical threat of Communism versus today's more technological threats. And you can expect teens to be interested, thanks to stars Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson.
What's the story?
RED DAWN is a remake of the iconic 1984 war drama about a group of high schoolers who band together to fight off a Communist invasion. Unlike the Cold War context of the original, the new version features the North Koreans as the enemy (originally it was the Chinese, but the studio decided to change the invading army's nationality, supposedly for marketing reasons) and Washington State as the setting. Between deployments, Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is home visiting his younger brother, high-school quarterback Matt (Josh Peck). When the North Koreans invade the morning after the Wolverines' big game, the Eckert brothers escape to their country house with their friends Robert (Josh Hutcherson) and Daryl (Connor Cruise). After assembling a tight crew of other young adults, Jed trains them all in military tactics to subvert the enemy.
Is it any good?
Even Hemsworth's authoritative charm can't save the lackluster material and overly subdued performances (including a truly terrible acting job by Isabel Lucas as Erica). With Hemsworth's and Hutcherson's box-office appeal, there's no doubt audiences of a certain age will want to see them fight as very different young warriors. Unfortunately, this remake, while passable for those solely interested in eye candy holding guns and spouting patriotic cheers, is in every way inferior to the original. Props are in order, however, for Jeffrey Dean Morgan and two other 40-something actors who show up for the final act as the Wolverines' experienced soldier backup.
It's not just nostalgia speaking to prefer the original; some remakes do offer an inventive twist or a realistic modernization (21 Jump Street and Let Me In come to mind). But here the powers that be decided it was OK to digitally alter the invading army's nationality from Chinese to North Korean (so they're saying all East Asians look alike?) and to not-so-subtly kill off every ensemble member of color. It's almost like watching a stereotypical horror movie -- every single black and Hispanic teen meets his or her end, but nearly all the white kids survive. And while original Red Dawn stars Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen had an authentic emotional connection and conversations, the brotherly talks between Hemsworth and Peck here feel forced and forgettable, much like the movie itself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Red Dawn's violence. How does it compare to what you've seen in other action movies? In horror movies? Which has more impact, and why?
The movie's antagonists were originally the Chinese, but the studio changed the enemy to the North Koreans. Why do you think the change was made? Do you think the Koreans pose a real threat to America? Does that affect how you experience the movie?
For those familiar with the original, how does this iteration compare to the '80s version? Some critics have accused the remake of being racist, both in its depiction of Asians and the way it kills off all the kids of color. What do you think?
Talk about the enduring popularity of remakes. Does this take on Red Dawn seem as relevant as the first film?
- In theaters: November 21, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: March 5, 2013
- Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson
- Director: Dan Bradley
- Studio: FilmDistrict
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language
For kids who love action
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.