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August 4, 2019

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‘Red Sea Diving’ drowns in shallow end

THE daring story of how thousands of beleaguered Ethiopian Jews stranded in refugee camps in Sudan were bravely smuggled to safety in Israel in the 1980s needs little extra drama. Tell that to Netflix.

The streamer’s “The Red Sea Diving Resort” is terribly overcooked, turning the real-life drama into a light caper like “Ocean’s 11,” adding cartoonish dialogue from hack superhero films and slathering the whole mess in white savior complex.

To rescue Ethiopian Jews in Sudan, Israeli secret service agents had the audacious plan of running an entire fake luxury beach resort as a front. Real tourists came and did yoga on the beach while the agents at night drove the Ethiopians from camps, ferried them onto dinghies and then to rescue boats, all under the noses of the Sudanese. Thrilling stuff, right?

Apparently not for writer and director Gideon Raff, who thought he needed to add cinematic meth to the story. He had a chance to make an African “Argo” and instead made an exploitative mess that mixes light Duran Duran-driven montages with scenes in which dozens of innocents are executed with bullets to the back of their heads.

A large part of the problem is the casting of Marvel’s “Captain America” Chris Evans as the leader of the Israeli spy ring that set up the hotel. The superhero clichés abound: “What we do is dangerous. People get hurt sometimes,” Evans says at one point. A frightened black boy clings to Evans, who later paternalistically wipes away the boy’s tears. Evans carries refugees to safety like a white, muscular god, often shirtless. “You leave no one behind,” he thunders.

Evans plays Ari Levinson, a maverick Mossad agent who storms into danger like an avenging angel. His impulse to save strangers has cost him — his wife and child have left him — but he won’t bend. “If we don’t do something, no one will,” he says in righteous anger.

The writer-director ignores history when he constructs his elaborate, Hollywood ending that incredulously features Americans as last-minute rescuers. The Sudanese army’s trucks are hurtling toward our heroes. The plane takes off without a second to spare. The evil general shoots his gun in the air out of frustration, Levinson triumphantly opens a sickly sweet drawing from his estranged daughter, and everyone exhales, safe, thanks to this white savior.

Someone tells him, “You’re crazy, you know that?”

No, this filmmaking is crazy.


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