The Red Sea Diving Resort boasts one of the most impressive casts for any Netflix film in recent memory, led by Chris Evans, hot off the heels of starring in the highest-grossing film of all time, unadjusted for inflation of course. It would then be expected that writer and director Gideon Raff would use this all-star cast to explore an undeveloped portion of human history in a full blown period piece, and The Red Sea Diving Resort checks all of these boxes. In fact, it’s remarkably similar to that of another film from last year: Operation Finale. Both films have an intriguing enough premise to warrant a watch from any audience, and The Red Sea Diving Resort has an even greater advantage over its theatrically-released counterpart. However, it also shares the same warts and flaws that Operation Finale has. From its sluggish pace to the generic dialogue and characters, the new Netflix historical feature never quite lives up to its potential, even in its most exciting and tense moments. By the halfway point, the film seemed to have run out of steam, hitting a high point far too quickly. It’s an enjoyable watch nevertheless, serving as a relatively effective way to pass 129 minutes, but it never elevates the material beyond that, instead digging downwards in its mediocrity.
Based on the Ethiopian Jewish refugee crisis of 1977, The Red Sea Diving Resort follows secret agents who are attempting these refugees by bringing them to a safe haven disguised as a hotel-The Red Sea Diving Resort. Once again, it’s no doubt an intriguing premise that pushes the film well past the one-hour mark but is held back by characters that desperately need both intrigue and genuine emotion. They are as stiff as the characters in the latest Call of Duty, lacking both depth and character arcs across the board. Additionally, it doesn’t help that the central performances are similarly stiff, with Chris Evans in a bland and underutilized role. If this is the caliber of roles that await Chris Evans following his work as Captain America, especially after some recent fantastic work in the MCU and the 2014 drama Gifted, it’s unlikely that he will ever be able to escape the shadow of the red, blue, and white shield.
In regards to the history that Gideon Raff attempts to portray, like the rest of the film, it’s a mixed bag, ranging from excellently framed moments of horrifying brilliance to a constant confusion that permeates throughout the entire film. Following an explosive opening, the audience is never given the time to settle into the time and atmosphere that the characters are living in. Necessary bits of exposition feels as if it was just being thrown out of thin air with random spurts of irrelevant historical facts. Sure, a history buff of the 1977 crisis could find the film far more accessible than the average casual Netflix subscriber. Sure, it has good intentions with the refugees seen as the clear, sympathetic victims. Sure, it checks all of the boxes for being socially acceptable, but it just stops at that, making the 129 minutes audiences will spend with the film a dull, drab, and forgettable ride that can never escape the tropes it so desperately mingles with.
Both filmmaking and screenwriting are undeniably difficult, with a combination of the responsibilities being even harder for just one person to handle. There’s no doubt that Raff understands the principles of screenwriting and characterization as he makes efforts of a stride at both, but he never quite sticks the landing. And it seems that he is more than aware of this as well, as instead of offering narrative material that deepens the stiff characters to a higher degree, he presents flashy, tonally inconsistent sequences to some high-energy rock song. It’s this strange mixing of the light-hearted with the serious and frightening history that creates a weird, goopy, and unattractive narrative that completely botches its potential.
Referring back to the comparison to Operation Finale, The Red Sea Diving Resort most certainly has good intentions, both as a sympathy letter to the refugees and as a historical film on its own. But due to tropes that blemish an otherwise enjoyable ride and characters that feel as stiff as the strings that Raff uses to puppet them, it never realizes its intentions, destroying the possibilities of a premise that, if in better hands, could have been something great. And now? It’s sitting on Netflix, awaiting the fearful consequence of being buried alive under the streaming service’s massive library of content.
Inspired by remarkable true life rescue missions, THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is the incredible story of a group of international agents and brave Ethiopians who in the early 80s used a deserted holiday retreat in Sudan as a front to smuggle thousands of refugees to Israel. The undercover team carrying out this mission is led by the charismatic Ari Levinson (Chris Evans) and courageous local Kabede Bimro (Michael Kenneth Williams). The prestigious cast also includes Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola, Michiel Huisman, Chris Chalk, Greg Kinnear and Ben Kingsley.
THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT is Available for Streaming on Netflix Now.