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Red Sparrow is long on shock and short on engagement (movie review)

They gave me a choice: die or review Red Sparrow. I’m starting to think I should have picked the former.

Did you see Avengers: Age of Ultron? If the answer is no, you’re better off, but on the other hand, the quick montage we get in that movie of Black Widow’s backstory is more interesting and compelling than anything in this movie.

So if my opening joke did not properly set the tone for what follows, consider it now set.

With a 2018 release, Red Sparrow looks shockingly tone deaf in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but the book was released in 2013 and it is true regardless of what year it is that misogyny and sexual misconduct are the rule of the land, so that’s not the problem. The issue is that what’s presented here is often illogical and bizarre.

I also think it’s well known that if you dye your hair blonde, you don’t go to the pool the next day because the chlorine will react to the chemicals in your hair and we’ll turn it green. People know that, right? Well, the people who made this movie didn’t know it or didn’t think it mattered.

But I know it.

That’s not killing this movie. The reason Red Sparrow isn’t a good film is at the heart of its boring plot, slow pacing, lack of chemistry between performers, lapses in directorial judgment, Jennifer Lawrence’s wavering accent, the dozen-or-so 3.5 inch floppy disks that are central to the plot even though this movie takes place in current-day and a million other things, including the delightful performance of Mary-Louise Partner, who does not seem to be aware of what movie she is in, but that’s hardly her fault. And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least hint at a scene that happens early on in the film that is so unbelievable that I just assumed it was a dream that could not really be happening in the context of this movie.

But it’s not a dream. No matter how much I want any of Red Sparrow not to be real, IT IS NOT A DREAM.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, I think you may be begging for one of Red Sparrow’s assassins to put you out of your misery before it’s over. It has a few moments, but it generally chooses shock value over compelling content and offers little else while it slogs along with a plot that is not particularly difficult to follow but not worth the effort. If you’re given the choice of seeing Jumanji again or becoming a sparrow, probably see Jumanji again.

RED movie review

Given that I never got around to writing about RED when I saw it in theaters, now seems like the right time to get back to it, given that it came out on DVD last week – January 25, to be exact.

Yeah, I saw RED in theaters, if you can believe it – and we had to sit all the way up front as it was a full house.  No, we weren’t late, the place was just blowin’ up with peeps.  Any why?  A star studded cast and a fine looking trailer looked like we were getting set for a comedic romp through shoot ’em up and blow ’em to hell country.

Well, it didn’t exactly go down like that, did it?  The movie starts off in promising fashion:  Bruce Willis, a retired CIA black ops agent is bored living alone in his house, so for amusement, he tears up his pension checks and calls the customer service line so he can chat with Mary-Louise Parker (frankly, I hear that), who is also bored to distraction at her job.  This section of the movie is light and fun – I believe these characters exist and behave as represented – it’s really well done.

It’s pretty much all down hill from here.

Rather than summarizing the movie, suffice it to say that once the budding romance section is over, we enter the things start blowing up section of the movie.  Now I love it when things blow up, but it has to be done better that it was in RED.  The movie doesn’t get boring, but you start to care less about the characters.  We slowly meet the rest of cast as the film plods along:  John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban – hell, they even sneak Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine into the damn movie!  But all this does is keep you in your seat and your eyes front; it doesn’t draw you into the movie, it just keeps the damn thing on life support.

The movie makes weird choices – sometimes, people are around and they notice the insane comic book violence (which is fine – the movie is based off a comic book mini series of the same name), but other times, they don’t – like when Bruce Willis’s house gets shot to shit in the beginning of the movie, there isn’t so much as a whisper from his neighbors – or the cops, for that matter.  But other times, there are screaming ensembles heading for the exits…  now mind you, this isn’t what’s wrong with the movie, but more of a microcosmic example of a movie that doesn’t know what it is.  Is it a comedy?  A comic book movie?  An action movie?  A romance?  It’s can’t make up its mind, and it doesn’t do any of them well.  But it has wonderful moments, and the first twenty minutes is great.  Oh, and any time Helen Mirren is on the screen, things are going well – there’s something about her in a dress firing high caliber automatic machine guns that just does it for me.  (Remembering, of course, that they’re Retired.  Extremely.  Dangerous.  They’re RED.  Riiiiiiiiiight.)

If you love comic book movies, then you’ll want to see RED.  If not, you might want to skip it all together – it’s a really tough call.  For all it’s problems, it’s a likable movie and therefor gets my Coors Light recommendation:  if it’s there and there is nothing else to drink, then pound it.  At 111 minutes, it’s running a little long, and I could have done without that little vignette at the end; no one should ever have to see John Malkovich in drag – that was cruel… yet not unusual.  (See Being John Malkovich!)

My Rating: 2.8 out of 5

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