Interesting and timely, “The Red Sea Diving Resort” highlights the plight of refugees and casts those helping them in a heroic light, but it doesn’t quite deliver dramatically.
The title might evoke a “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"-type genteel comedy, but this is a sometimes stark depiction of operatives led by an independent-thinking Mossad agent (Chris Evans) trying to smuggle Ethiopian Jewish refugees out of Africa. There are echoes of other films, as he persuades the Israeli government to fund an elaborate ruse for the (only recently declassified) real-life operation. Instead of a fake movie, as in “Argo,” it’s a fake hotel, which the highly trained spies find themselves having to staff when real tourists arrive. The shepherding of Jewish refugees calls to mind “Schindler’s List” or “Hotel Rwanda” (it’s set in Sudan), but, unfortunately, “Red Sea” doesn’t deliver the stress, suspense or emotional punch of any of those films.
The movie’s not bad; it’s just fine. The acting is good, particularly by Michael K. Williams as a heroic Ethiopian, Chris Chalk as a menacing colonel, and Alessandro Nivola as the team’s doctor and Evans’ character’s best friend. Nivola is simply good in every movie he’s in, no matter the material. Evans is a welcome presence.
However, “Red Sea” lacks tension. It’s rife with missed opportunities to make us worry about the safety of the spies and the refugees. Small things here and there — filmmaker decisions — make us question the film’s accuracy. Reliance on cliché sabotages the experience — Evans’ Ari Levinson is dedicated to his job, but damn it, why can’t he follow the rules? “This job pays in migraines,” complains his wise-but-caring boss (Ben Kingsley).
Nail-on-the-head images (Jewish refugees crossing the desert, anyone?) and dialogue don’t help. “We’re all just refugees, aren’t we?” says an agent played by Haley Bennett on the recitation of Levinson’s backstory. Filmmakers might want to avoid scripting the former Captain America to heroically declare, “We leave no one behind” for a while. A potentially rich vein for comedy — spies ad libbing as fake hotel employees — goes largely untapped. The result is a lack of personality to the film, written and directed by Gideon Raff, creator of the Israeli series on which Showtime’s “Homeland” is based.
“Red Sea” has genuine-seeming concern for the refugees it depicts, but doesn’t memorably capture the impressive true tale.
Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Playing: Available July 31 on Netflix