After I described a few gratingly melodramatic scenes from The Red Sea Diving Resort to one of my colleagues, she asked me, “Was this script generated by AI?” It’s not much of a stretch to imagine, particularly if the AI in question had digested old action movies and accidentally seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Now streaming on Netflix, the film, directed by Gideon Raff (Showtime’s Homeland), is notable for two reasons: First, it’s based on a true story most are likely unfamiliar with, of a group of spies in the 1980s who used a coastal resort as a means of rescuing and evacuating Jewish Ethiopians from Sudan to Israel. Second, it stars Chris Evans.
The big question facing the actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been just how they’ll break out of the molds set for them in an age where the notion of the movie star is increasingly rare. Yes, Chris Evans was famous before taking on the mantle of Captain America, but there’s no question that his profile has risen considerably since becoming the First Avenger. He’s proven that he can do other things besides playing the hero, starring in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer and Rian Johnson’s upcoming Knives Out, and even tackling theater in Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero, but will any of it allow him to really leave Cap behind?
The question wouldn’t warrant too much pondering, but it’s inescapable in The Red Sea Diving Resort, given how the movie fails to turn Evans into anything but the most boring hero archetype possible. He’s the kind of guy whose introductory, establishing moment is saving a refugee child, whose actual child leaves him out of her drawings of their family, who says, “We never leave anyone behind,” and who is chided by his superiors for being a loose cannon.
These earnest tropes aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they’re painful in a story about black refugees where most of the roles filled by nonwhite actors are corpses, corrupt officials, or evil military officers. All of the fellow spies who assist Evans in his quest to help ferry refugees to safety are white, and though Michael K. Williams has a role as the man spearheading the operation on the refugees’ side, his biggest moments are to be rescued by Evans and praise him in voice-over.
The focus turns the film into a quintessential white savior movie, making every person of color a prop to be saved rather than a developed character. That clunkiness is also exacerbated by how wildly The Red Sea Diving Resort swings from kooky fun whenever the agents are shown running the resort to harsh scenes of violence against the refugees. Movies can be and are more than one thing at a time, but the two threads that Raff is tying together are so discrete — and feel so inappropriately matched — that it makes the refugees’ plight feel even more incidental to the heroism of these white spies.
The rest of the movie unfolds pretty much exactly as you’d expect it to, with the bad guy firing his gun into the air in frustration, a conflict between the two main men who eventually begrudgingly come to accept each other, and real footage of Operation Brothers playing over the credits. There’s nothing surprising about it except for how poorly it’s all handled.
More’s the pity, too, as the story of the rescue of hundreds of refugees is a remarkable one, and the plight of the Jewish Ethiopian population is one that I hadn’t heard of prior to watching the film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really seem to be on Raff’s mind, either, as the film is less an appeal to basic human kindness for those in need than an excuse to make a fun action movie based on true events. The only demographic to which The Red Sea Diving Resort won’t be a disappointment is crowd tuning in specifically for Evans, as he spends a good chunk of the movie shirtless, and all of it sporting a great beard. But it’s not the post-Marvel breakout that, presumably, Evans would want it to be.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is streaming on Netflix now.