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Madcap mission

Williams (left) and Evans (Marcos Cruz/Netflix)

Movie

Madcap mission

The Red Sea Diving Resort highlights an instructive operation to rescue Ethiopian refugees, but R-rated content cheapens the story

File Netflix’s latest original film, The Red Sea Diving Resort, in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category. Inspired by recently declassified events that occurred in 1980, the film follows a wild Israeli operation to smuggle Ethiopian Jews out of Sudan and relocate them to Israel.

Similar to 2012’s Argo, which centered on the CIA’s fake film production used to extract hostages from Iran, this operation involves a group of Mossad agents acting as seaside hoteliers.

Shortly after arriving at an abandoned, dilapidated resort in the middle of war-torn Sudan, the group finds its best-laid plans running awry in the most providential fashion. When a busload of German holidaymakers stumbles across the resort’s fake brochure and shows up expecting real accommodations, renegade leader Ari Levinson (Chris Evans) realizes the best thing to do is lean into the camouflage that tourists offer. Soon, he and his team are teaching tai chi and snorkeling lessons by day and attempting to smuggle refugees past roadblocks and warlords by night.

Within the confines of this often funny, madcap adventure, the movie gets at serious themes. Like the Jews, Christians too must reflect on the Biblical mandate to welcome the stranger and consider what lengths we should go to in order to obey. Working with local rebel leader Kabede (Michael K. Williams), Levinson believes his obligation is to risk his own life rescuing those who share his faith, if not his country of birth.

From the other side of the political equation, however, the film illustrates why playing politics with refugees—say, by widening the definition to include nearly any migrant—does a disservice to those who face violent persecution. The United States should perhaps change its policies toward those seeking better economic opportunities than their home countries provide. That is something we can fairly debate. But, as this film ably illustrates, destroying the distinctions between immigrant groups risks flooding the system and leaving true asylum-seekers in the hands of their oppressors.

These are difficult outcomes to weigh, yet Christians are obligated to do so lovingly and prayerfully.

Purely from an entertainment standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more rip-roaring spy escapade. Evans brings the charisma we’ve come to expect from him and has strong chemistry with the rest of his team, even—or maybe especially—when they’re at odds over how to proceed. This makes it all the more disappointing that the movie includes so much dopey profanity and distracting near-nudity (and, in the case of one male character, brief backside nudity).

Though technically films, Netflix movies aren’t rated by the Motion Picture Association of America the way standard theatrical releases are. And there are still a lot of misperceptions over how the television ratings apply. To dispel any confusion, you should treat The Red Sea Diving Resort as if it were rated R.

Frequent F-bombs and other foul language don’t feel as if they’re included to capture something about a specific character or to authentically reflect a particular subculture. Likewise, the pointless inclusion of two anonymous women who, but for a fraction of a turn toward the camera, we’d see topless, is textbook gratuitous.

This isn’t just a moral gripe. A profile shot of an unclothed Evans, vital bits concealed by a strategically bent leg, cheapens the seriousness of the story. Sure, we want you to feel bad about the refugees, but in the meantime, check out what low body-fat percentage Captain America has! The juxtaposition of these scenes against those showing women and children being summarily executed couldn’t be in worse taste.

It’s popular these days to discuss the “privilege” various demographic groups enjoy at the expense of others in American culture. I’d like to add to that list good-looking celebrities whose hot bods were apparently deemed more worthy of our attention than further exploring the experiences of the Ethiopians.