“Do you know how long it takes to peel the skin from a human body?” a torture-happy Russian goon asks in “Red Sparrow.” I imagine it feels about as long as sitting through this atrocious spy thriller, in which Jennifer Lawrence plays a prima ballerina who goes to whore school.
I’m not kidding. The film’s unquestionable high point is Lawrence’s character bellowing the accusing line in her Boris-and-Natasha accent: “You sent me to whore school!”
From The New York Post
Other than this “Showgirls”-esque howler and Mary-Louise Parker’s amusing turn as a drunk, corrupt American senator’s aide, there’s little to recommend “Red Sparrow” — a throwback to old Hollywood in its belief that gratuitous rape and violence are the best way to create a heroine with backbone.
That’s almost beside the point, though: Director Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”) makes a hash of the already convoluted plot (based on a novel by Jason Matthews) and wastes a lead who’s capable of being this year’s “Atomic Blonde” (she even gets a platinum dye job halfway through).
But where Charlize Theron’s double-agent character dispatched assailants with brutal physical precision, Lawrence’s is mostly required to be eye candy, despite her past as a lead in the Bolshoi Ballet. You’d think all that training might come in handy, but director Lawrence (no relation) never lets her use her dancer’s legs to strangle even one bad guy. What gives?
We meet Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) as she’s headlining the ballet and caring for her ailing mama (Joely Richardson), but her career is scuttled when a careless male dancer breaks her leg.
Strapped for cash, the resourceful Dominika agrees to spy for her politician uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) and soon finds herself shipped off to Sparrow School, where the state trains nubile men and women in espionage via seduction. And lock picking. But mostly seduction.
When Dominika fends off a near-rape by one of her classmates, she’s punished for it by having to strip naked and re-enact the scene in front of a class. (Somewhere, there’s a porn director planning a “Red Sparrow” satire in which these pervy impulses can be liberated from an R rating.)
A prestigious cast keep straight faces here, including Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds as Russian officials and Charlotte Rampling as the severe matron (“You vill call me Matron”) of the Sparrows. Joel Edgerton plays a CIA operative with the most American of names: Nate Nash, cultivator of a Russian mole, who thinks he can flip Dominika. She plays along while reporting back to her bosses, and off we go.
There will be double-crossing. There will be a hilariously bad sex scene. And there will be (gag) flaying.
A decent eleventh-hour twist isn’t enough to redeem what’s come before, which the film would have you see as a righteous indictment of Russia’s corruption and misogyny. Too bad it resembles countless bad sexploitation flicks set right here at home.