Let's talk about movies... This week we explore the wonderful world of "based upon" films. They're like Ligers (not entirely a tiger (reboot) or a lion (remake). They take a previously made film or previously published book and create a mashup of plotlines, characters, and other various elements arranged however it best pleases the filmmakers. I'm slightly biased against these "Mr. Potato-Head" creations as they rarely surpass the originals (and when you start messing with classic or beloved movies you'd damn sure better do it as good as, if not better than, the original). But there have been exceptions to the rule so let's see what this film does and if it can live up to it's big brother.
This week on deck: Red Dawn
How it came to my attention: Missed the showing of "Wreck it Ralph" I was going to review and decided to go see Red Dawn starting in 20 minutes rather than try another time for "Wreck it Ralph".
Going into it: Knew it was some sort of re-do of the 1984 film of the same name starring Patrick Swayze. The 2012 version stars Chris Hemsworth (I will watch anything that man graces with his presence).
Coming out of it: The curse of the "based upon" has struck again. That was mind-blowingly ridiculous in the worst way.
The Review/Recommendation: Don't watch it. I swear, I feel like the Grim Reaper of movies this month. If you've seen the 1984 version of Red Dawn you know that it broke cinematic ground (the Guinness Book of World Records considered it the most violent film at the time of it's release and it was the first film in the US to be released with the MPAA rating of PG-13). The 2012 "based upon" film of the same name was like a declawed sabretooth turned into a fat kitty that naps in the sun. It slammed garbled media rhetoric at you in the beginning relevant to our current time and political affiliations and stayed, initially, pretty consistent to the 1984 version (with a few tweaks). They took down the violence level tenfold and members of the resistance group kept dying off to the point where I wondered if anyone was surviving this thing. Red Dawn couldn't seem to decide whether or not it wanted to be a straight-up action film or a brother-bonding-family drama/action. I don't know if it was the casting (the teenagers looked too much like actual teenagers for me to believe they could kick ass) or something else I couldn't quite put my finger on, but this Red Dawn seemed somewhat inauthentic. The set-up felt contrived and the opening failed to establish enough plausible realism for me to buy into their premise. The antagonists never progressed beyond being one dimensional and Red Dawn suffered for it. Major plot-points got altered further on in the film and the ending was changed entirely. Red Dawn concludes abruptly with a death that didn't need to happen and a frustrating lack of anything resembling clear resolution (when the credits rolled I heard a guy behind me say "Seriously?!?" and I was totally on board with that dude). I don't know if they wanted to leave it open for a sequel (god forbid) but this film left me wishing I'd waited for "Wreck it Ralph".
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The Recap (will most certainly contain spoilers): We open on marine Jed Eckhert (played by Chris Hemsworth) on leave in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. He runs into his father (town Police Sergeant Tom Eckhert-played by Brett Cullen) at his little brother's (Matt Eckhert-played by Josh Peck) football game. Matt is the QB and we see that he is good-natured and well-meaning but ultimately reckless in his decision-making. I'm smelling the unmistakable scent of foreshadowing hanging heavy in the air. We see a slice of small-town idyllic life as Matt meets his girlfriend Erica Martin (played by Isabel Lucas) after the game and she drops him off at home when an inexplicable power outage hits the town. Sergeant Eckhert leaves the boys at home to go investigate/provide emergency response.
The next morning the town is literally rocked by an invasion of tiny little mushrooms falling from the sky... Oh, no, that's definitely invading North Korean paratroopers. The guys scramble into their pickup truck as Matt witnesses an F-16 take out a cargo plane carrying deploying paratroopers. They run into their dad who leads them through the streets until they're blocked in and he tells them to go to their family cabin while he stays to help the townspeople. Matt gets Jed to attempt a rescue of his girlfriend, Erica, but by the time they get there her family has already been taken hostage and we catch our first glimpse of lead bad guy, Captain Cho (played by Will Yun Lee). The brothers flee the scene and pick up other teens along the way: Robert Morris (played by Josh Hutcherson), Daryl Jenkins (played by Connor Cruise) and Pete (played by Steve Lentz). The group makes it to the cabin where the eldest brother, Jed, takes direction and instructs everyone to look for supplies. Jed tells Robert to search for and set up any kind of radio or television equipment he can locate.
Pete finds a handgun in the camper and hides it in his waistband. Instantly he moves from "one of the team" to "traitorous bastard that will eventually betray the group". A van approaches the cabin and Pete fires on it before seeing if they're hostile or not. Turns out that Sergeant Eckhert told some more teens where to hide. The newcomers who join the group include: Toni Walsh (played by Adrianne Palicki, Julie Goodyear (played by Alyssa Diaz), Greg Goodyear ( played by Julian Alcaraz) and Danny Smith (played by Edwin Hodge). Jed forcefully confiscates Pete's pistol as he has demonstrated that he isn't capable of using it responsibly. They bunk in for the night and awake to an uncertain future but a reality in which Pete has stolen all of their food supplies and left. Pete goes and surrenders to the North Koreans, telling them of the cabins location in order to ensure his survival.
Captain Cho mounts an assault on the cabin with a small number of his troops. The group escapes to the woods and spies on the Captain. Cho brings out Mayor Jenkins (played by Michael Beach) who is Daryl's father. Major Jenkins tries unsuccessfully to get them to surrender and next up to bat is Sergeant Eckhert who gives a Swan Song of rebellion and vengence, telling his boys to fight, and keep fighting until they are free, or dead. Captain Cho executes him on the spot as the group watches from the woods, not giving up their position. After they re-group in a safer location, Jed announces he is going to fight like his father asked him to, the others in the group also decide to fight and name themselves "Wolverines" after their school mascot. Good thing they weren't the Bullfrogs or Fluffy Bunnies.
Cue a half-assed training montage and then they get down to the business of sabotage. The Wolverines steal weapons from the North Koreans and get in a little target practice with Jed. The Wolverines escalate to attacking checkpoints, stealing even more weapons and leaving their name spray-painted on public areas. This begins to inspire the locals and annoy the North Koreans. During one of the attacks the team sees their turncoat friend, Pete, outside a target location. Matt gets his attention and flips him the bird before blowing him, and the target, sky high. There's a funny accidental raid on Subway where a couple of the boys make off with a bag full of sandwiches and a tub of soda. It's a welcome respite from the killing to see that they can still have fun even in the most desperate of circumstances.
Sometime during this time Jed and Toni get a little twitter-pated, though considering their dating pool it was only a matter of time. Matt has secured his place, almost de-facto due to his relation to Jed, as second-in-command. The Wolverines plan an attack on a North Korean/Allies rally and Matt leaves his post to chase after Erica when he spots her in a prison transport bus. Greg is killed attempting to help him (there's that recklessness again, this time with more severe consequences than losing a football game). Matt and Erica escape and make it back to their camp in the woods where we see Jed getting stitched up and Matt learns that Greg is dead. He takes off into the woods for three days. Seems logical when you've been pining for your girl for who-knows-how-long to leave her and go sulk. Totes. Captain Cho gets pressured from a higher-up and he assures him the "terrorists" will not live through the night. Cho located the group and he bombs their camp and the surrounding woods which looks bathed in flames when the survivors scramble out from their tunnels. Julie and Danny die in the blast.
The surviving Wolverines run into some US Marines from USMC Alpha Company later on and we meet Sergeant Major Andrew Tanner (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Smith (played by Kenneth Cho) and Hodges (played by Matt Gerald). They say their looking for a guerrilla group called the Wolverines in order to get their help with a vital mission critical to Free America's fight against the invasion. Jed reveals who the group is and we learn that they're after EMP-resistant communications technology (specifically a radio telephone that allows North Korea to keep in contact with each other and their allies). The Wolverines agree to help the Marines steal the tech. They stage a raid on the police station where Cho has set up his command. Jed ends up fighting Captain Cho in his father's old office and a hidden gun safe yields his dad's old IDs and a handgun which Jed uses to kill Cho after saying that he "messed with the wrong family".
Matt steals the suitcase phone and Hodges is killed backing up the operation. They escape but Daryl gets into a scuffel with anti-insurgent Russian specialists and somehow "escapes". In reality they tagged him with a tracker and let him go. The Wolverines make it back to their new base of operations in the city and they celebrate with beer and Jed and Toni make googly-eyes at each other. Nary a kiss has been exchanged, from anyone, and that is wrong. If you were a group of teenagers on the run from almost certain death I can practically guarantee that there would be sex. Especially considering the hormones and adrenaline flying around those kids. But I digress, the North Koreans attack the Wolverines and Jed is killed abruptly and I'm in shock. I thought for certain Jed, Matt, Erica and Toni were making it out of this thing alive. Toni practically loses her shit and gets dragged away and the survivors escape.
The group piles into a station wagon and somewhere down the road they realize that Daryl had been tagged like they do to wild game; the group stops to consider their options. Some want to abandon him and some want to keep him in the group. Daryl sacrifices himself and they leave him gear and supplies and the last thing we see is Daryl waving sadly to the Wolverines as they drive off. He offered to hold back the North Koreans and we don't see him die, but it's a certainty as he's never seen again. The Marines leave with the suitcase phone in their chopper and they offer the survivors sanctuary in Free America but Matt declines and says they'll stay to fight.
Now led by Matt, the team stages raids on prisoner camps in order to recruit more Wolverines to fight the invasion and we close out on Matt's voiceover, which is word for word Jed's speech to the original group of Wolverines when he convinced them to fight. Toni, Erica and Robert surround Matt as he speaks, looking hardened and battle weary yet competent and ready to fight. The screen cuts to black. Credits Roll.