I’ll start with the one good thing about The Red Sea Diving Resort: Chris Evans is pants-meltingly hot in it. He is rocking the Rebel Cap beard, and an impressive amount of chest hair, and he’s shirtless a lot. You see his fully naked body in profile at one point! It is a delight! I will include screengrabs later in the review! (If you want gifs, here is a Tumblr that assembled them!) And if you were willing to watch this film on mute just so you could see Evans in his ultimate form in action, I would not blame you at all.
But if Evans isn’t your Best Chris (ahem, he’s actually not mine, despite my current thirst; that distinction belongs to Keanu Reeves first and then Chris Pine), then I’m not sure why in the actual goddamn hell you would watch The Red Sea Diving Resort. This is a movie from the guy who made the Israeli show that inspired Homeland, and if that isn’t already everything you needed to know about this movie, then let me elaborate. The Red Sea Diving Resort is staggering in its utter lack of self-awareness, a movie attempting to be very righteous in its discussion of refugee rights and displaced peoples but one that summarily ignores that the Israeli government is prone to reactionary practices and exclusionary laws.
Israeli Mossad agents are the heroes of this story, fully and without any question whatsoever, and when we see an agent smirking about stalking a member of the Palestinian Liberation Front or another one calmly shooting another person in the head, these are supposed to be fist-pump moments. These characters have barely any sort of interiority, and treating them as no-questions-asked heroes in a narrative that also makes Muslims summarily violent and Africans summarily corrupt feels pretty gross.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is based on Operation Brothers, an initiative by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad to rescue members of the Ethiopian Beta Israel communities. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mossad agents went undercover to help Ethiopian Jews travel from Ethiopia to Sudan and then to Israel by boat. (The film presents this narrative, but doesn’t address how Ethiopian Jews still complain about being treated like second-class citizens in Israel and accuse the government of racist policies; Israeli police have killed two Ethiopian teens in the past six months, leading to protests. I suppose that dash of reality would derail the faux happy ending of this narrative.)
In The Red Sea Diving Resort, the operation is led by Mossad Agent Ari Levinson (Evans), who Mossad higher-up Ethan Levin (Ben Kingsley, of course) has tried to fire twice. But Ari just keeps coming back, and this time he’s come up with a complex scheme to get the Ethiopian Jews to Israel: Bring together a team of Mossad agents to pose as the owners and instructors of a diving school that is available for lease in Sudan. By pretending to run the Red Sea Diving Resort, Ari reasons, the team will have a cover, and the Ethiopian Jews can travel from refugee camps in Sudan to the resort, where they’ll slip in the night to Israeli Navy boats that will take them to Jerusalem.
The movie spends a lot of time with the Israeli government scoffing at this plan, but of course they approve it, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie. So then the movie spends a lot of time scoffing at how ill-prepared Ari’s team is to run this resort, but still, Sammy (Alessandro Nivola), Rachel (Haley Bennett), Jake (Michiel Huisman, often shirtless, if you are into that), and Max (Alex Hassell) remain committed to the cause. They didn’t realize people would actually want to rent rooms from them, oh no! They have to teach students how to actually dive, oh no! But they’ll do it, goddammit, so they can save their brothers, the Ethiopian Jews!
Do the Ethiopian Jews actually get narratives of their own? Nope, nope, you know the answer is nope. The main representative of their community in the film is Kabede Bimro (Michael K. Williams, trying to make something out of nothing), who refuses to leave anyone behind. He has a few speeches about how important it is for him to get to Israel because he is a true believer, but otherwise, his character disappears for great chunks of time. I suspect this is because filmmaker Gideon Raff is more interested in simultaneously stereotyping all Muslims and Africans as sexist, dirty, disgusting, hypocritical, and corrupt (the term “Sharia law” is used, natch) while also celebrating all Israelis as progressive, compassionate, empathetic, and humanistic. This dynamic is played out most often whenever the team interacts with Sudanese officials, who all gleefully accept bribes, and when they face off against Col. Abdel Ahmed (Chris Chalk), who hisses threats at them, sexually assaults a defenseless woman at a dinner at the resort, and joyfully executes dozens of people at a refugee camp. Look at this degenerate barbarian. Won’t the Israelis put him in his place already?
The Red Sea Diving Resort keeps this up for 140 minutes, and then ends with Bimro’s character giving this speech about how selfless and wonderful Mossad is, because of course, the Ethiopian character can’t end this film without expressing gratitude to his benefactors. “Do not remain silent,” Bimro tells us, and then the film informs us with an intertitle that “There are currently more than 65 million displaced refugees around the world.” Do you think Raff considers Palestinians part of those 65 million? Probably not.
Anyway, here are the Chris Evans pictures you were promised, go wild.
The Red Sea Diving Resort is currently streaming on Netflix.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix Media Center, Netflix/Red Sea Diving Resort