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Review: Sex tries to sell in passable RED SPARROW

 Courtesy of Fox


First Jennifer Lawrence was a mocking jay and now she’s a “Red Sparrow” in Francis Lawrence new espionage throwback. Lawrence, who directed our titular comrade in “Catching Fire,” dials up the suspense morality to decent heights, complete with a screwball last second hammer and nail twist that almost feels a tad preposterous for its own good, but I went along with it anyway.

Ms. Lawrence does push herself in this role -(those who saw her in “mother!” will be assessing her recent career choices) - as Dominika Egorova (what a name!) a ballet dancer turned Russian probe after an incident leaves her with a broken leg. A few months pass and since she can longer fulfill her duties as part of her company, it pushes her into a tricky corner, either she accepts her creepy Uncle’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) offer to become an aid to the state, or be forced to relinquish her apartment and crucial health benefits that allows her sick mother to receive treatment. It’s a cliché motive, as we never really feel that spark or connection Dominika's supposed to have with her mother, but it’s what makes the most sense, so we allow it to happen.

What becomes of this girl’s life is not for the faint of heart, as she’s sent of to an elite training program that sees the weakest die, and the strongest survive. It’s dog eat dog, and with Charlotte Rampling leading the charge as a strict, brutal, and unapologetic instructor in this “whore school” it adds an extra element. In this program, women and men are trained to seduce for information. They pry into your weakest desires and exploit your flaws. Seeing the potential in her abilities, Moscow sends Dominika on a mission to get close with an American CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) and get the name of the Russian spy whose feeding him intel.

If that all sounds like familiar territory: that’s because it is and the direction really becomes “does sex really sell?” By about the fourth or five time I had to see Jennifer Lawrence strip down and get naked my initial thought was “is this supposed to be a movie about female empowerment? Or to demean them even more?” Sure, the argument can be made that Lawrence is in control of her own destiny (which she most assuredly is) - it’s just some of those moments left a sour taste in my mouth and the message came across as muffled. No doubt that Lawrence bares it all and completely loses herself in the role (she even sports a stylish Russian brogue) but the love story subplot with Edgerton’s character never comes to fruition in a manner that intrigued me and then you’ve got Mary Louise Parker drunkenly showing up for a scene or two, and you can’t help but think she stumbled onto the screen from another movie.

What does work best in “Red Sparrow” is the constant stream of planning, blackmail and conspiracies. When the action does come, it’s quick and in your face, much like “Atomic Blonde” was this past summer. The credit is definitely in the court of the director, who does a solid job at staging some of these scenes with precise detail, even if the story doesn’t have as much heart as you’d hope.

“Red Sparrow” is watchable to an extent that it doesn’t bore you with it’s content, rather they’d like to disguise the film as something provocative. You’re enjoyment of this film will ultimately come down to a few things: tolerance of low grade sexism (I don’t actually know if this movie would pass the Bechtel test) and Lawrence doing her best to sell every frame of this flick. The film isn’t necessarily distasteful, I think it just needed to be cooked in the pot a little longer.

Grade: B-

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