Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciarán Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Jeremy Irons, Thekla Reuten, Douglas Hodge, Sakina Jaffrey, Sergei Polunin, Sasha Frolova, Sebastian Hülk
Written by: Justin Haythe, based on a novel by Jason Matthews
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
Running Time: 139
Date: 03/02/2018

Red Sparrow (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Broken 'Sparrow'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The chance to do an entire movie in a Russian accent must have been irresistible to Jennifer Lawrence, whose new Red Sparrow opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.

If any young actress in Hollywood is on a Meryl Streep-like career trajectory at the moment, it's Lawrence, and she must know that accents are part of the deal.

Yet no matter how she shapes her vowels, and no matter how many exotic hairstyles and makeup jobs she gets, Red Sparrow does not have a breath of life in it.

Quite a few Hollywood movies feel cranked out from assembly lines, but this one is an even bigger shame, given that it's supposed to be about a woman trained in seduction.

Lawrence may be beautiful, but her character in this movie is far too chilly and glum to seduce anyone.

As it begins, Lawrence is Dominika Egorova, a notable Bolshoi Ballet dancer. The company pays for a nice apartment as well as care for her ailing mother (Joely Richardson), until a gruesome accident onstage ends her career for good.

Her uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), offers her a chance to protect her mom by becoming a Sparrow, a secret agent trained to figure out whatever the target desires and to then provide it.

Charlotte Rampling plays the sour, pinned-up matriarch of the secret Sparrow school, making students disrobe in front of other students, and even perform sexual acts on less-than-desirable subjects.

Dominika's first assignment is a dashing American agent, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is working with a Russian mole. During a handoff in Gorky Park, they are spotted, and Nash creates a distraction to allow the mole to get away.

Dominika must seduce Nash — who is now in trouble for his reckless act — and discover the identity of the mole.

And no matter what the movie does to try to trick us, there's just no question that these two are going to fall in love. That's a relative term, however, given that this airless movie has a hard time conveying any emotions at all.

Red Sparrow is directed by Francis Lawrence — no relation to Jennifer — who made fortunes with her on three of the four Hunger Games movies.

Those were progressively awful, and they had the same kind of frigid emptiness as this; it's perhaps an attempt at stoicism, but it just comes across as mopey.

Perhaps the Lawrences thought they could go from teen entertainment to grown-up fare simply via their "R" rating. Yet the hollow way Red Sparrow dabbles in sex and bloodshed feels just as juvenile.

Based on a novel by Jason Matthews, the movie's construction is adequate, and there are no real glaring errors.

It's always great to see Jeremy Irons in anything, even if he just stands in rooms and talks. And a competent score by James Newton Howard (Detroit) makes the movie at least sound like a thriller.

And yet a thriller requires suspense and pacing, and Red Sparrow begins to drag early on, making its inflated 139-minute running time seem even more interminable than it is.

In the end, Lawrence's accent is fine, but what she really requires is a movie with some life and some emotion in it, a movie worth caring about. Now that would be really sexy.

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