“You sent me to whore school,” says an indignant Bolshoi ballerina-turned-spy Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence to her less than caring uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) in Red Sparrow, and it’s dialogue like that, with thicker-than-borscht Russian accents yet, that gets your hopes up for a trashy international-intrigue funfest. Consider them dashed. This piece of cinema du airport thriller starring Lawrence as a dancer who goes full Mata Hari after suffering a career-ending accident on stage, is a punishingly long (133 minutes), shamelessly shallow downer that makes the mistake of taking itself oh-so-seriously. Big mistake.
Director Francis Lawrence (no relation), who guided the star through the last three Hunger Games blockbusters, is clearly jazzed by Dominika’s plight at being raped, tortured, toughened and sexualized until she’s nothing but a killing machine with a hot body. He sure as hell lingers on every debasement. Why is Dominika doing this? Long story short, she has a sick mother (Joely Richardson). And as a “Sparrow,” code for graduates of the sex-spy school, the young woman is also an asset to Uncle Vanya – yes, that’s actually his name – who runs the SVR, the Russian intelligence service that’s enlisted her for erotic espionage. He also has a creepy incest vibe for his niece (eww), whose first big assignment is traveling to Budapest and ID-ing a Russian mole.
That mysterious traitor to the State, it seems, is feeding intelligence to Nate Nash, an American CIA agent played by Joel Edgerton with the resigned look of an actor trapped in an underwritten role. Do Dominika and the agent get it on? Is it love or is Nate just trying to turn her? Will other SVR bigwigs, played by British and Irish actors (Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling), catch on to Dominika’s secret agenda, whatever that is? Why are the secrets that Mary-Louise Parker is selling to the Kremlin on floppy discs, a digital storage system that went out when Putin was a pup? (With the Russians making headlines for sophisticated
technology that meddled with U.S. elections, Red Sparrow gives us fossilized floppies!) And why is it that Lawrence has never seemed more American than she does in the role of a Russian terminator in training?
The film’s sadistic streak leeches the fun out of the script that Justin Haythe has adapted from the novel by former CIA operative Jason Matthews. Otherwise, the spy plot seems like a rough draft of something John le Carré tossed in his reject pile; there’s more exciting spycraft in 10 minutes of The Americans than you’ll find in the entirety of this turgid twaddle. Talk about an opportunity missed. Back to whore school for everybody.