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Movie Review: 'Red Sparrow'

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It's not that Red Sparrow is for the birds, but it doesn't exactly fly by either.

That's because the innocent-ballerina-turned-seductive-spy thriller, featuring Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence in an unabashed J-Law star vehicle, is so gratuitously violent and, frankly, sexually exploitative.

Lawrence plays a prima ballerina in contemporary Russia who is apparently involved in a new Cold War that's much like the old Cold War.

When she breaks her leg in mid-performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, she short-circuits her till-now promising career.

That's when she is recruited by her creepy, mysterious uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high-ranking member of a secret Russian intelligence agency.

With the dangling carrot of promised medical care for her ailing, aging mother, she is welcomed by the "Sparrow School," which trains agents to use their bodies and their sexual allure as weapons.

Her mentor: a cold-as-ice, tough-as-nails, cruel-as-a-cucumber trainer known as Matron (Charlotte Rampling).

Her assignment: to get close to a resourceful CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) and determine who is the mole in their midst.

She takes right to this new line of work, neither cowering nor smiling as she goes about her life-and-death-dangerous mandate.

But she also forms a seeming emotional attachment to her target that could severely compromise her mission.

Director Francis Lawrence – no relation, although he directed his leading lady in three of the four Hunger Games movies, as well as I Am Legend and Water for Elephants – works from a screenplay by Justin Haythe that is based on the book by Jason Matthews.

That the script is out of touch in the METOO/TIME'SUP era of sexual sensitivity is perhaps to be expected and forgiven. But the narrative seems to go out of its way to register as not only sexist and misogynistic but sadistic as well.

You don't have to be particularly squeamish coming in to consider watching though your fingers at several junctures: even for an espionage thriller, the violence is well over the top.

And although Lawrence is, as usual, undeniably magnetic, the female-empowerment theme that seems embedded in the film's premise remains elusive.

Nor does it help that the chemistry between leads Lawrence and Edgerton is minimal.

So we'll dance around 2 stars out of 4 for Red Sparrow, a heavy-handed spy thriller with little in the way of silver linings.


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