(director: Francis Lawrence; screenwriters: book by Jason Matthews/Justin Haythe; cinematographer: Jo Willems; editor: Alan Edward Bell; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Dominika Egorova), Joel Edgerton (Nate Nash), Thekla Reuten (Marta), Matthias Schoenaerts (Vanya Egorov), Charlotte Rampling (Matron), Ciaran Hinds (Zakharov), Mary-Louise Parker (Stephanie Boucher), Joely Richardson (Nina Egorova), Jeremy Irons (General Korchnoi). Bill Camp (Marty Gable), Nicolle O’Neill (Sonya), Hugh Quarshire (Simon); Runtime: 139; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Chernin, Steve Zaillian, Jenno Topping, David Ready; 20th Century Fox; 2018)

“Not worth torturing yourself to see.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The sex scenes fail to sizzle, the dialogue is hamstrung, the phony Russian accents are risible, the characters are thinly drawn and the modern-day Cold War story is murky and unfulfilling. It’s punishingly long at 139-minutes. Austrian filmmaker Francis Lawrence (“Hunger Games” franchise) directs as if too filled with borscht to be hungry for a tasty Viennese pastry. Justin Haythe has glumly adapted it from the 2013 novel by former CIA operative Jason Matthews.Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is set for life as a prima Bolshoi Ballet dancer, doing what she was born to do.

The state company pays for her ailing mom’s (Joely Richardson) health problems and Dominika’s lush apartment. But Dominika’s dream life comes to a sudden end when her leg is damaged onstage in a suspicious accident by a rival dancer and she can’t dance any more. Her ruthless government spy agent uncle, Vanya Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), deputy director of Russia’s external intelligence agency SVR, tells her the Bolshoi will no longer take care care of her and entices her to train to be a Sparrow (a fictional program), a spy for the state. Charlotte Rampling is the harsh matron of the Whore School who trains the would-be spies in the art of seduction and psychological warfare by humiliating them and thereby getting them to do anything for the state. The American CIA agent, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), filmed in Gorky Park working with a high-ranking Russian mole escapes a police arrest, but he will become her first assignment. She must seduce him and find out the name of the mole, as Nash left Russia and now operates in Budapest. Instead the spies fall in love, though they have no screen chemistry.

The film goes on with its tedious tale never getting better than mediocre, and since it’s a thriller it unfortunately draws no suspense or no reason to care about any of the characters. So despite a decent Lawrence performance (though she’s too grim-faced to be enjoyable), the always good performance by Jeremy Irons as the sadistic Russian spy general, and the very good production values, the espionage thriller never emerged as anything but a vacuous tale not worth torturing yourself to see.

Red Sparrow