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On Netflix: THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019)

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THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT
(Canada/US - 2019)

Written and directed by Gideon Raff. Cast: Chris Evans, Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola, Ben Kingsley, Greg Kinnear, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michiel Huisman, Alex Hassell, Mark Ivanir, Chris Chalk, Danny Keogh, Yossi Vasa, Thabo Bopape, Anele Matoti, Stephen Mofokeng, Karl Thaning, Reabetswe Modega. (Unrated, 130 mins)

"Inspired by real events," the Netflix Original film THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is a very generalized--all of the characters are fictitious--chronicle of Operation Brothers, a recently declassified Israeli plot to transport Ethiopian Jews to Jerusalem under the cover of an abandoned vacation resort in Sudan. The idea is concocted in 1979 by (fictional) Mossad agent Ari Levinson (Chris Evans), the kind of loose cannon who barges into the office of his boss Levin (Ben Kingsley, acting like an Israeli Frank McRae) and is read the riot act about his hot-dogging ways and how he needs to start playing by the rules. Levinson has been in contact with Kadebe (Michael Kenneth Williams), who's been tirelessly and mostly unsuccessfully working to smuggle refugees out of Ethiopia to the promised land of Israel. Levinson's plan: lease the Red Sea Diving Resort, a dilapidated and vacant seaside vacation spot, from the Sudanese government using an Israeli military shell company based in Zurich, smuggle the refugees into the resort and quickly move them out with help of the Israeli Navy, positioned a ways offshore. Levin and Mossad chief Barack Isaacs (Mark Ivanir) are initially against the idea but soon conclude that it's so crazy that it just might work. Levinson needs a team, so he puts together a crack unit of like-minded Mossad badasses, and to do that, it's gonna take a montage: Rachel Reiter (Haley Bennett), who's introduced with her own synth score like she just walked in from a Luc Besson movie; Jake Wolf (Michiel Huisman) and Max Rose (Alex Hassell), both pretty non-descript, with skills that aren't exactly clear; and Levinson's old friend Sammy Navon (Alessandro Nivola), a doctor in civilian life, and who bailed on him before over his impulsive, reckless decision-making.






After resorting to bribery with a corrupt but good-natured Sudan government official and Mr. Pibb superfan (Thabo Bopape steals every scene he's in), the crew goes about setting up their operation at the resort, but something unexpected happens: a busload of German tourists read about the Red Sea Diving Resort and arrive to check in. Knowing that refusing to accommodate them might attract unwanted attention from the Sudanese government and the ruthless general (Chris Chalk) who commands the area, they're forced to keep up the ruse that it's a functioning resort. It's here where the film more or less becomes an unlikely mash-up of MUNICH, ARGO, and the 1986 Robin Williams dud CLUB PARADISE (and Kingsley's presence is an obvious nod to SCHINDLER'S LIST), as vacationers arrive and we're treated to more montages set to the likes of Imagination's "Just an Illusion" (remember that from the closing credits of the great F/X?) and, for some reason, Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," which Nivola's character also plays on an acoustic guitar in a scene set in 1981, when the song wasn't even a hit until early 1983.





Its heart is in the right place, and taken on its own terms of entertainment first and historical accuracy second, THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is engrossing, despite its playing fast and loose with the facts. Kadebe (a composite of several real people) also serves as the narrator and there's certainly an argument to be made that an equally compelling story could've been told from his end, which is how it actually starts until Williams takes half the movie off after Kadebe introduces Levinson with a degree of awestruck wonder that it stops just short of declaring him a white savior (only Levinson is brave enough to rescue a little boy left behind while all the Ethiopian refugees stand there gobsmacked by his derring-do). Operation Brothers went on until 1985, and eventually, the US government--represented here by Walton Bowen (Greg Kinnear), a cynical cultural attache at the US Embassy in Sudan--sends in the Air Force in requisite "America! Fuck Yeah!" fashion. Writer/director Gideon Raff (his first feature film since 2009's awful TERROR TRAIN pseudo-remake TRAIN, but better known as the creator of the Israeli TV series PRISONERS OF WAR, which would be reworked in the US as the acclaimed HOMELAND) keeps things moving at a decent clip. It's fairly generic and predictable save for a couple of inspired moments, like Levinson bribing the Sudanese official while their meeting is constantly interrupted by the President's enemies being executed right outside. Otherwise, Evans plays his character like a Mossad LETHAL WEAPON, being reminded several times that "You're reckless and out of control!" and "You're crazy, you know that?" In a lot of ways, THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is the ideal Netflix offering. It's a perfectly watchable time-killer that would eventually end up there anyway after nobody went to see it in theaters, just like other recent period political thrillers like BEIRUT, 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE, and A PRIVATE WAR. The only real surprise is that Rosamund Pike isn't in it.


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