Courtesy of Netflix
If Netflix’s goal was to make a watered down version of “Argo” with the “Inspired by a True Story” thriller “The Red Sea Diving Resort” - I’d say they succeeded.
As those comparisons will be fairly obvious, writer-director Gideon Raff’s overly complicated script details the incredible story of how a group of reckless Secret Service agents in 1979 fronted a hotel to smuggle Ethiopian Jews out of refugee camps to the coast, where offshore boats would relocate them to Jerusalem. A harrowing and so wild you can’t believe narrative that, in the correct hands, could be an Oscar contender, but here plays more one dimensional than you might imagine, and in the process marginalizes and undermines the courageous sacrifices these refugees actually made.
Instead, the film would rather show two surfer hunks (in this case Captain America himself Chris Evans and “Game of Thrones” own Michiel Huisman) shirtless than explore the emotional hardships and deliver genuine tension. Aside from a singular character, Kabede Bimro (Michael Kenneth Williams - last seen in Netflix’s terrific “When They See Us”) - the only nonwhite ally - “Red Sea Diving Resort” takes the term white savior to extreme and hard to ignore heights.
There’s even a montage thrown in by editor Tim Squyres set to “Hungry Like The Wolf” that showcases the squad executing numerous rescue missions, and Raff can’t decide whether he wants this to be in the same dramatic pedigree of something like Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” or a dry comedy. Considering most of the comedic elements never land, I’d assume it would be the former not the latter.
Either way, this 130 minute escapade can’t figure out its own identity, so it's no wonder how careless the screenwriters are when dealing with actual history. In the film, Evans is Ari Levinson, an admirable leading character who, for all we know, could still be in Marvel mode (especially shouting lines like “We Leave No One Behind”) as he arrives at the last second to save a lost Ethiopian boy moments before an African warlord has the chance to shoot him (immediately letting us know the kind of film this will be).
Ari is fully committed to the mentality of saving everyone and anyone, and he hatches the idea to lease an abandoned hotel along the shores of the Red Sea, where Ethiopian Jews who’d made the trek to Sudan could be safely transported out of the country. Of course, this was hostile times so folks who would be silly enough to carry out such a task must have no ties to the country.
Enter the rogue crew of dashingly good-looking charmers consisting of Haley Bennet, Huisman and Alessandro Nivola (whose character only exists to question every decision Ari makes) and they answer to a pair of spectators (Ben Kinglsey and Mark Ivanir) who just stand around, shout a lot, and cleanch their firsts in the air.
Though the hardest job lies with Bimro, who is tasked with guiding the Jews on a mass exodus from Ethiopia to the Gedaref Refugee Camp, you’d think “The Red Sea Diving Resort” would revert the perspective to this character’s point of view, but it alternatively turns this non-white ally into another victim. In fact, for as determined as Evan’s character is to “leave no man behind” - often, he’s ready to call it quits because things get risky, and its Bimro who has to remind him there’s real lives on the line. How ironic?
The only real suspense in “Resort” stems from a believable performance from Chris Chalk (“When They See Us”) as Col. Abdel Ahmed whose sole objective is to keep collecting aid from the government, and manage as many refugees as possible. Still, there’s a sequence where Ahmed is asserting his domanice and decides to murder five innocent refugees. Now, if he’s so keen to make money off every surviving head, it almost makes no sense as to why he would kill them. Chalk is a menacing foe, and watching him sniff around the resort for foul play provides the only intense standoff in the whole movie, yet a blatant disregard for logic proves futile.
Finally, the film tosses a thankless role to Greg Kinnear as a US Ambassador who helped execute some of the harder missions, but the scope and scale of his character’s contributions are vastly downplayed in favor of corny action sequences. Then again, that’s basically what “The Red Sea Diving Resort” is anyhow, a film that takes too many liberties with the material and fails to capitalize on its sources or help audiences understand Ethopioan culture and the prejudices they faced. But hey, look on the bright side, at least you get a great shot of Chris Evan's butt.