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'Red Dawn' review: No laughing matter

*** (out of four)

In 1984’s “Red Dawn,” characters used laughable secret codes, including “John has a long mustache.” Minorities were referred to in ways that aren’t even close to acceptable today. And a dad, separated from his son, screamed, “Avenge me!”

It’s not saying much that the new “Red Dawn” is better, but it is. By quite a bit. Where the original’s chilling opening of foreign paratroopers invading Colorado and firing into a school gave way to a nonsensical tale of high school kids absolutely dominating trained soldiers, the makers of the 2012 “Red Dawn” actually took time to figure out how to make the movie work.

Shot in 2009 and set in Spokane, Wash., the remake awkwardly switched its villains from the Chinese to the North Koreans, but otherwise has its head on straight. Jed (Chris Hemsworth) is now a Marine, and he combat trains the teenagers he holes up with during the invasion. His leadership convincingly mobilizes a group of kids (including Josh Peck as Jed’s brother Matt and Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games” as Robert) who grow up very quickly when forced to defend themselves and their homes against an enemy that apparently has wiped out all forms of communication. (Obviously Twitter would be a major factor in such an event.)

It’s still absurd when the American rebels shout “Wolverines!” in salute to their high school mascot during the fight. Robert, who notes “We’re living ‘Call of Duty,’ and it sucks,” while demanding Subway sandwiches (but no flatbread!) at gunpoint, quickly goes from funny to disturbing. Thing is, teenagers go to war all the time, and this “Red Dawn” is no joke. Though the movie’s also no “Skyfall,” it’s a scary, action-packed war zone that demonstrates the cost of selfishness and the importance of bonding as a team.

I wonder how many young fans of Hemsworth and Hutcherson will respond to the title, though. Were it not already taken, a bigger box-office hit might have come with the name “Step Up 2 the Streets.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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