The spectacular failings of The Red Sea Diving Resort can be summed up by two pieces of on-screen text that appear at this disastrous film’s beginning and end.
After the production company logos, a bog-standard spy thriller computer font appears on black. It reads: “For thousands of years Ethiopian Jews yearned for Jerusalem. As civil war rages they begin to fulfil their dream“. Then it is gone in an instant. If you wanted to read it, too bad. After laughing aloud, disbelievingly, I had to pause and rewind. Don’t bother doing the same, because if you make it to the end, you will wish the film had been as brief as the text.
The other, closing text reads: “There are currently more than 65 million displaced refugees around the world”. This presents a more serious question – why bother including the Jewish Ethiopian refugees the narrative delights in shunting aside? And why have the audacity to associate this abhorrent white-saviour tosh with a very current, very real global refugee crisis?
The true events from which The Red Sea Diving Resort claims to have drawn inspiration relate to an early 1980s Israeli Mossad operation in which Jewish Ethiopians were smuggled to Jerusalem from their homeland. Ethiopia’s land-locked geography meant a dangerous journey through neighbouring Sudan, where Daniel Limor and his team of agents leased an abandoned hotel on the coast of the red sea. From there, the refugees were ferried north by Israeli Navy SEALs to Israel.
The film’s version of Limor is Ari, played by a bored Chris Evans. He looks embarrassed to be involved in a production that could have been his Marvel breakout. He is joined by Alessandro Nivola, Haley Bennett, Ben Kingsley and Michiel Huisman, none of whom are particularly bad, just unfortunately forever associated with this movie.
For what Gideon Raff (Prisoners of War, the original, Israeli version of Homeland) has created – and he should know better – is, at best, staggeringly misjudged and at worst, downright offensive. The poster suggests that the only Ethiopian character with a name and a face, Kebede (Michael K. Williams) is as central as Ari. In reality, he has 15 minutes of screen-time, sidelined and forgotten to make way for the pretty, white stars for which the script has clearly been written.
One can just about imagine a version of this where Kebede is the hero, navigating the violent perils of the local military and corrupt government to deliver the refugees to the Mossad agents. The film could have been a shining opportunity to tell a remarkable, little-known story in a poignant way with genuine currency and relevance. The reality has no interest in doing that.
The set-up revels in its light spy thriller turned comedy caper tone, Ari’s team assembled in sequences that knowingly wink and smile. After that, every opportunity is taken to have people stroll around with their tops off – Evans included, Ari naturally deciding there is plenty time for push-ups and pull-ups. Gotta get that pump on for the next scene in which defenceless Ethiopians are executed.
Kingsley’s Ethan mostly struts around offices looking stern, but also observes that Africa is “a continent no-one cares about”. The film makes clear that it doesn’t, either. Bennett’s Rachel, meanwhile, delivers the unforgivable “we’re all just refugees” shtick, horribly shoehorned in. We should all take refuge from The Red Sea Diving Resort, more like.
In another movie Mychael Danna’s quirky, pulsing score might have been great, but it soundtracks a disastrous piece of work with its heart in the wrong place. There might even be funny lines or strong performances in there – it’s impossible to tell, because any redeeming quality is eclipsed by how the film treats the desperate refugees sidelined for Ari’s redemptive personal arc or his feuds with Nivola’s Sammy.
The titular holiday getaway is a front, set up as a cover for heroic bravery. But far from heroism, The Red Sea Diving Resort is constructed in a way that makes its white-saviour central characters look like they are are actually on holiday. That would have been a better film.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is on Netflix now