Not all heroes wear spandex, and Chris Evans – fresh off his run as Captain America – plays a more down-to-earth champion of justice in “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” an earnest but mediocre movie washing ashore on Netflix.
Drawing heavily on Evans’ star power, the fact-based film focuses on a timely topic and a remarkable story: Israeli Mossad agents buying an abandoned hotel, using the site as a front to assist thousands of Ethiopian refugees in escaping a bloody civil war and finding passage to Israel in the late 1970s.
It’s in the telling where the movie frequently stumbles, first in a prolonged section that has Evans’ Ari Levinson assembling a crack team to carry out the operation, then in the ongoing tension about tactics with his lieutenant Sammy (Alessandro Nivola), who prefers caution to Ari’s full-speed-ahead (literally, in one case) approach.
The problem stems from a general flatness of the characters and, despite the harrowing situations, storytelling. The movie was written and directed by Gideon Raff, known for the Israeli series that inspired “Homeland” as well as FX’s “Tyrant,” who knows his way around the cloak-and-dagger stuff, but dispatches pretty much everything we learn about Ari near the outset when someone tells him, “Your life’s a mess.”
Evans is such a stalwart leading man that he carries the movie for a while, with modest support from Michael Kenneth Williams as his Ethiopian collaborator, Ben Kingsley as his skeptical boss and Greg Kinnear as a CIA agent. The movie also sparks to life, fleetingly, when the agents realize actually running the hotel – including unwitting tourists – might provide them cover, an intriguing and even amusing idea that mostly withers on the vine.
The most interesting aspect of the movie, frankly, involves Evans, taking what amounts to a smaller, independent-style project as he seeks to make the transition from his shield-throwing antics in the Marvel Cinematic Universe back to something approaching reality. Netflix, meanwhile, appears more than happy to capitalize on that profile, showcasing a film that in a pre-streaming world would be in and out of theaters in a couple of weeks.
Seen that way, “The Red Sea Diving Resort” represents a reasonable stopover career-wise, en route to bigger and hopefully better things. But from a movie perspective, stirring as the story is, it’s not an attraction that anybody really has to see.
“The Red Sea Diving Resort” premieres July 31 on Netflix.