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September 30, 2023

The Red Sea Diving Report misses the point and fails to dive deep

By CHRISTIAN HELGESON | September 12, 2019

courtesy of Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0t

The Red Sea Diving Resort is based on a true story. Directed by Gideon Raff, it’s about a team of Israeli Mossad agents who smuggle endangered Jewish Ethiopian refugees out of Sudan through a fake exotic resort on the coast of Sudan. 

In the movie, these Ethiopian refugees face constant peril from roaming Sudanese gangs, the ambivalence of foreign governments and their secret, treacherous and inhospitable journey across Sudan to the resort. However, I imagine that if you are reading this review, you care very little about that. I also imagine that your real concern is how much of Chris Evans (playing Israeli Mossad agent Ari) you will see in this film. 

I can personally verify that if you watch this movie, you will not only see attractive people who are not Chris Evans, but you will also see Chris Evans do pull-ups from a prison grate, yell at people with conviction and confidence, perform multiple push ups during a Duran Duran montage and before a high stakes refugee extraction, run along the coastline of a beach, walk shirtless around a Sudanese resort populated by his equally attractive retinue and awaken from his slumber fully nude. And yes, his beard returns from the snap.

To summarize, if you enjoy looking at and thinking about Chris Evans, I can say with 100 percent certainty that you will enjoy this film. Indeed, I can say that I did enjoy the film through that lens for a bit. 

That is, until I had to ask why a filmmaker would make a film about persecuted Ethiopian refugees who must cross desert and sea to reach safety when that filmmaker was clearly more interested in the beautiful shleps who facilitated the final, least arduous part of their journey. 

The film only makes a passing effort to fully dramatize the plight of the Ethiopian Jews. The first few minutes of the film rush through a botched attempt to smuggle refugees across Sudan by land. In brief moments such as these, we see the violence afflicted upon these people in the streets and see how the violence has taken its psychological toll. Yet the Ethiopians barely receive more than a few lines, and it’s only a moment before Evans is whisked back to Israel for a heist movie sequence where he unexpectedly shows up in the homes of his crew. Given the abruptness of this tonal shift, it’s a surprise Evans’ character didn’t ask his cohorts to go on “one last ride” with him. 

Ultimately, the tonal mismatch between the fun of the hotel environment and the brutality of the Sudanese towards the Jews is what truly sinks this film. It is a problem that also beleaguered films such as Argo and The Monuments Men where filmmakers honed in on the logistical prowess of men tangential to the historical moments of suffering they encountered. Of course, there has always been an element of pleasure in seeing groups of rogues outsmart and outmaneuver historical villains. 

Such films give the audience the fantasy that the ingenuity and intricate bureaucracy of the West can outsmart the opposition, who are always morally depraved and imaginatively deprived. Additionally, focusing on the logistics of smuggling people or paintings rather than the intricacies of life in an authoritarian environment allows the audience to enjoy such movies on a superficial level and forget about suffering as much as possible.

Movies like this are made all the time, and often get away on the quality of their writing. The Red Sea Diving Resort is no such movie. As attractive as its characters are, no one gets any further characterization beyond their introduction, and almost all except two or three could be completely removed from the movie without changing the plot. As for the writing, it often careens between banality and silliness. Ben Kingsley, who is nearly wasted as Ari’s boss, gives some of the most cliche lines. His basic purpose within the film is to act like a posh police chief from an 80s TV show, berating Ari for being “reckless and irresponsible,” balking at his absurd plans and yet throwing his full support on him. 

Ultimately, the main problem with the Red Sea Diving Resort is that it combines poor imitations of genre films and their structures into a story that should ideally be about a significant cultural struggle. Beyond how fun it is to watch Chris Evans act, unfortunately, there’s not much to dive into here.

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