Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)

The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019) Directed: Gideon Raff  Rated: TV-MA  Runtime: 2h 9m  Studio: Netflix/Bron Studios Screenwriter: Gideon Raff  Cast: Chris Evans, Alessandro Nivola, Greg Kinnear, Haley Bennett, Michiel Huisman, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ben Kingsley, Chris Chalk, Mark Ivanir, Alex Hassell

The Red Sea Diving Resort is an inspirationally touted film that forgot to include anything inspiring. 

The film opens with a voice-over, narrating the scene and thus explaining the story’s point. The voice is Kebed’s (Williams), one of only three black characters who have a meaningful, yet minor, role. This opening scene highlights (immediately) two of the biggest problems with The Red Sea Diving Resort. First, Raff must explain every detail he thinks you won’t understand. Second, white people are the saviors of the black Jews fleeing Ethiopia. 

This movie is based on actual events. Mossad agents did spend years in Sudan using a previously abandoned seaside resort to smuggle black Jews to Isreal. Raff’s problem (as writer and director) is that he only told one side of the story. He included nothing of meaningful resonance of these Beta Jews (as they are known). And there were opportunities to do so. With a story as significant, meaningful, and layered as these missions were for all involved, it’s a repulsive display of systematic racism. To gloss over the black characters as much as he did, propping them up only to facilitate white characters is repugnant. How did Netflix find this a good screenplay? 

Michael Kenneth Williams and Chris Evans in ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ Image: Marcos Cruz/Netflix via polygon.com

Gideon Raff is Israeli but couldn’t find any of his people to star in this film? Did he look? Did people say no? That’s a red flag. So enter the American-sounding and looking beach chic Ken and Barbie (Evans and Bennett). Mixed with a British actor (Kingsley) who uses non-Jewish slang (calling people’ chaps’) all while not even trying to lose his own accent. 

Raff depicts Mossad as this spy agency with a cowboy mentality likened to the American wild west in a story whose premise is built upon the necessity of teamwork and planning. It’s okay when trouble pops up; Ari’s (Evans) got it. As if positive thinking alone will save anyone from certain death if they’re caught. There is a team of agents with Ari, but none are fleshed out, well-rounded, or have satisfying arcs. As members of the white savior club, you think they’d be important, but they’re not. 

Chris Evans and Haley Bennett in ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ Image: Netflix/Marcos Cruz via polygon.com

The third black character with any significant lines or screentime is Commander Ahmed (Chalk) that Ari refers to as Colonel or nothing. He’s the leader of the Mukhabarat, a “military organization” that terrorized Sudan. None of that information is touched on, or the underlying reasons the Beta’s flee in the first place. Nor the call to action that involved Isreal in the first place; you won’t learn about that in this film. So you must take at face value that Chalk’s character is the physical manifestation of why these people are fleeing Ethiopia. Yet it doesn’t do the depth of their reasons justice. For such an important character, you think it would have been easy to figure out the character’s name or the actor who plays him. You’d be wrong. I had to turn on my closed captioning feature to find out Chalk’s character’s name, which isn’t even uttered until near the film’s end. I had to look through articles on this movie for the actor’s name to find it. Chris Chalk’s part in this film is not included under a Google search for the cast of this film, nor on IMDb.com (I’m not affiliated with either). Chalk’s character is another example of Raff’s poor filmmaking skills or Chris Chalk’s wanting everyone to forget he was in this movie. It’s sad because Chalk’s performance was one of the few that displayed any effort or emotion. 

Ethiopian Jews fleeing Sudan in Netflix’s ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort’ Image: Netflix via digitalspy.com

Now Gideon Raff is the same man who gave the world Homeland and the limited series The Spy. Raff won awards for these; perhaps he should stick with just television.

The Red Sea Diving Resort is a grossly missed opportunity to take a story with two already entwined entities and tell a whole and compelling story. As it stands, the black characters were depicted as poor, desperate, violent, or greedy. This depiction may have been the reality of the time, but Raff gives none of these characters any form of agency beyond their choice to flee. Those missed opportunities for nuanced realism are tragic. It’s an injustice to those this story is supposed to also tell. 

A poorly written script with no character development and lackluster acting is worth no one’s time, especially one that systematically snubs half of this story’s reason for existing. The Red Sea Diving Resort isn’t worth your time or a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Red Notice (2021)

Red Notice (2021)

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber  Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1h 55m

Studio: Netflix  Screenwriter: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson

Red Notice aims to hit the mark as a fun international heist caper but misses the mark. 

The film is full of clichés and overused tropes such as “the muscle,” “wisecracking loudmouth,” and “a stunning woman.” Such stereotypes are tired and unimaginative, like Johnson and Gadot’s performances and on-screen chemistry. 

Red Notice tries for an Indiana Jones feel with its plot that hoped to infuse light-hearted humor as in The Mummy with Ryan Reynolds casting but failed to deliver. Johnson plays John Hartley, an FBI profiler who ends up teaming up with art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) to catch “The Bishop” (Gadot), who sets them both up. 

There is no thrill while watching this treasure hunt, full of escapades, double-crossing, and uninspired fight scenes. This movie was doomed from the moment it was green-lit because its casting choices are the only thing propping up the story’s weak execution. All three of the main cast can give better performances than Red Notice’s script provides. Red Notice may be Netflix’s most-watched film in its history, but it in no way should have cost 200 million dollars! It was an interesting story concept with a cast full of people audiences love to see, so why wouldn’t anyone expect it to be a hit? Especially after Covid restrictions were lifted in many places. While adorable Gal Gadot doesn’t do it for me as a believable baddy, Johnson is just too stiff. John Cena could have pulled off being an irritated FBI agent, better matched against Reynolds quips, and physically able to make more believable facial expressions at Gadot. 

Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds in ‘Red Notice’ Image: Netflix via latimes.com

The focus of critiquing the casting here is because it’s all Netflix used to sell this film as watchable in theaters (where it did terribly) or on its streaming site. So I’m left to ponder how long Dwyane Johnson can keep getting type-cast in Hollywood as the ‘attractive muscular leading man?’ What does he have left talent-wise as time goes on when he can’t throw people down or jump from high heights from helicopters anymore? Couple that with Gal Gadot’s less than solid filmography as anything other than ‘the hot woman doing something’ (despite her outstanding Wonder Woman performance) and her talent abilities are to called into question. Everyone expects so much from them, yet films like Red Notice smoother any chance for either’s potential to shine. 

It’s no surprise then that Ryan Reynolds is the best thespian of this trio. Yes, he usually does the wisecracks, the comedic-often raunchy characters, but he still has the most range. Like Johnson and Gadot’s characters, Reynolds displays as tired as if they know their characters are reaching too hard-all under fake smiles, sunglasses, and chest-puffing. 

Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot in ‘Red Notice’ Image: Netflix via NYTimes.com

Writer and director Rawson Thurber created a story that takes itself too seriously in its execution despite a bit of cheese. Nothing sets this over-hyped movie apart from others in its genre, except its MacGuffin title and overuse of the color red. 

Red Notice truly is nothing special and not worth your time or spot on a watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

I AM MOTHER (2019)

I AM MOTHER (2019)

Director: Grant Sputore  Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hr. 53 mins   

Studio: Rhea Films/Netflix   Screenwriter: Michael Lloyd-Green

Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank

What is it with Netflix and robots? Is it just me? What is with the mass appeal of dystopian or apocalyptic premises in the last decade of screen media in general? Okay, if people didn’t like it or were sick of it, such projects wouldn’t get made. That doesn’t mean they all should. 

So here’s I AM MOTHER with robots and the end of the human race. Hardly an original concept. After some extinction-level event wipes man from the Earth, robots inherit it. “Mother” is a nanny bot, voiced by Rose Byrne. Mother’s function is to repopulate the human race from a secret bunker with over 60K human embryos. She grows one, a female, and calls her “daughter” (Rugaard). Why just one? Mother needs to practice being a good parent before going all out. Here’s my first question, how would she handle more than a few? She’s the only robot. Then again, I had Alien and Prometheus vibes (sans actual aliens), so what do I know. Over time Daughter grows into a teenager, fully educated by Mother and curious about the world beyond the bunker. Who wouldn’t be?

Hilary Swank in ‘I Am Mother’ Image: Netflix via theguardian.com

Daughter’s safety and sheltered existence are challenged one day upon “the wounded woman’s” (Swank) arrival. Seriously, Swank’s character isn’t even credited with a name, just a description. If you’re the last of your kind, do names matter? Unlike Daughter, who didn’t need one, Swank’s character is an adult and probably had one at some point, so it leans towards degrading. I digress on this point. 

Through a series of events, “the woman” ends up in the bunker (sorry, baby spoiler) and causes Daughter to question her life and Mother. The rest of the film is a letdown to the ideas planted of what viewers think is coming. Instead, it has strong echoes of the Alien franchise merged with Terminator and Star Trek’s Borg. As badass as that mashup implies, it culminates in nothing. It’s poached ideas that are left undercooked. 

Embryo from ‘I AM MOTHER’ Image: Netflix via Arstechnica.com

I AM MOTHER is a better-wrapped product than others whose packaging is recycled content. That’s all this film is. The script and performances were as flat as a sheet of paper. Watching this out of sheer boredom, I AM MOTHER has the appeal of lukewarm coffee, completely worth tossing aside. 

There are so many (better) original films out there to spend your time on, some I mentioned. This film, however, has no place on your watchlist- unless you like unoriginal crap.

-A Pen Lady