MOVIE BUFF-ET: Chilly lead performance guns down ‘Red Sparrow’

Twentieth Century Fox

Jennifer Lawrence has won an Oscar, three Golden Globes, a BAFTA, seven MTV Movie Awards, a Saturn Award, and six People’s Choice Awards.

She was the highest paid actress in 2015 and 2016 because of her talent and popularity a the box office. She starred in prestige films like “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Joy” as well as headlined blockbusters like “The Hunger Games” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

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The 28-year-old lead of the new movie “Red Sparrow” is considered to be not only a movie star but also a fine actress.

However, after her recent choices and performances, I’m beginning to forget why she is so well regarded. Maybe I need to watch “Winter’s Bone” again to remind myself, but Lawrence is so blank and distant in the lurid yet tepid thriller “Red Sparrow” that one has to seriously question what she is thinking?

“Red Sparrow” is the quality of film you could understand a young actress to make for a paycheck or to make a name for herself, but not one she would make after winning an Academy Award and being nominated for another.

“Red Sparrow” is not as dark and disgusting as last fall’s “Mother,” but it is laboriously convoluted and just plain tiring to watch for the bulk of its two-hour and 20-minute running time.

The script by Justin Haythe may have been thrilling on the page, but under Francis Lawrence’s meandering and lifeless direction, the thriller is anything but.

Jennifer Lawrence’s character Dominika Egorova is Russian ballerina who dances to support his cancer-ridden mother, but she is also a pawn of the her uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) who works in Russian Intelligence.Ivan sees a talent in his niece that he believes he can exploit to further his own career and goes to great and brutal lengths to make that happen.

Ivan creepily maneuvers her into a position where she has no choice but to join the Sparrow program where she is trained to use and do whatever is takes to obtain information that will enhance the Russian agenda as part of her spy craft, including her beauty and sexuality.

Once trained, Dominika’s mission is to get close to CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton) who is the handler for a mole in the Russian government.

Just reading the plot, the film might sound intriguing, but the movie’s pace plods and wanders along, which could have been interesting if Lawrence’s performance wasn’t so icy. I had no empathy for her character, and despite varying performances from talents such as Egerton, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louis Parker, and Jeremy Irons, Lawrence is tasked with carrying the bulk of the movie. Unfortunately, she doesn’t manage it that well.

Schoenaerts gives the most effective performance in the film, but as much of a cad as he is, it’s hard to feel much for Dominika because her character is somewhat deplorable.

Though the film is very different than the TV show “The Americans,” which is about a Russian couple working as spies in the U.S., both deal with similar topics. However, the television show leaves you rooting for the “bad guys” to a certain extent, while a couple of hours and change with Dominika left me not caring about her or the so-called twist ending whatsoever.

(R) 2 hrs. 20 min.
Grade: C-

Classic Corner

Tarzan the Ape Man

If you need me on a Saturday morning, call before 9 or after 11 a.m. Turner Classic Movies has me booked for that two-hour period for the next several months. Well, if not me, then at least my DVR.

The channel will be airing the MGM and RKO Tarzan movies weekly and in order during that time spot. These 12 films are what I consider the “classic” Tarzan movies of the 1930s and 1940s that starred Olympic champion swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as the Lord of the Jungle and Maureen O’Sullivan as his mate, Jane. Cheetah the chimp and the generically named Boy, Tarzan and Jane’s adopted son, are also in on the fun for kids and adults alike.

Now, these movies aren’t much like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels, and with the earliest ones being over 80 years old some might find various issues with the films. The are, indeed, of their time. But they are also exciting, adventurous, romantic, and a whole lot of fun if you can suspend your cynical distance long enough to enjoy them.

The movies were incredibly popular in first run and later as a staple of Saturday television from the 1950s through the 1970s before there were hundreds of channels and streaming options available. Though more than a dozen actors played Tarzan on the big screen and TV, Weismuller was Tarzan to a couple of generations of movie fans, and anyone who has ever seen one of his Tarzan movies can holler a version of his distinctive jungle cry.

I’m still one of those fans. In fact, the Tarzan movies occupy some of my earliest movie memories, and they no doubt played a great role in generating my love for old movies. I had probably seen all 12 of these films three or four times before the age of 10. The local CBS affiliate in Memphis ran them weekly on Saturday at noon in a loop along with the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes, Lone Ranger, and other adventure films of the golden-age of Hollywood throughout my childhood.

On tap this Saturday is “Tarzan the Ape Man,” which introduced Weissmuller and O’Sullivan. It’s not the best of the Weissmuller Tarzan films, but it does set the groundwork for all the movies that came later. Weismuller’s third film in the series “Tarzan Escapes” from 1936 is probably the best, but my favorite is 1942’s “Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” which was the final film for MGM.

The budget shrunk for the final six RKO films considerably. O’Sullivan left the series as Jane, and the plots got even more outrageous, but they did grow a bit closer in spirit to Burroughs’ novels after 1943’s “Tarzan Triumphs” in which Tarzan takes on Nazis who wind up in his jungle oasis.

If you’ve never seen any of these films or haven’t in years, check one of two of them out. No doubt, you’ll have a laugh with or at least at the movie.