• by Wes Singleton

Red Sparrow, C+


Rated R, 140 minutes

I'll be the first to admit I'm one of Jennifer Lawrence's biggest fans, though her new spy thriller "Red Sparrow" proves that she can still do good work in a boring film. This is a less energized, overlong version of "Atomic Blonde" that has JLaw getting down and dirty as a former ballerina dancer-turned-Russian-spy, and she's the chief reason the film isn't worse than it is.

Prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) faces a bleak and uncertain future after she suffers an injury that ends her career. She soon turns to Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow after completing the sadistic training process. As she comes to terms with her new abilities, Dominika meets a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who tries to convince her that he is the only person she can trust.

Lawrence is cool, smooth and tough (and handling the accent serviceably) as a Russian spy in the dark yet sluggish spy thriller "Red Sparrow." It's well-cast and directed by Francis Lawrence, no relation to Jennifer, who previously directed her in three of the four "Hunger Games" films, and is written by "Revolutionary Road's" Justin Haythe, based on the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. The provocative first half is much better than its slower-than-molasses second half with a disappointing finale given all that came before it.

Lawrence bares all in one controversial scene early on that will turn heads as she goes to an unconventional spy training academy called Red Sparrow School (or "Whore School" as she terms it), led by the always-stern, unsmiling Oscar-nominee Charlotte Rampling, perfectly cast here.

Rounding out the solid supporting cast is Mattias Schoenarts ("Rust and Bone") as her ambitious uncle who works in Russian intelligence and pushes Dominika into it, as well as Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons as a mysterious Russian general, Joely Richardson as Dominika's ill mother, and in a small, memorable part as U.S. bureaucrat in Moscow, "Red's" Mary-Louise Parker.

Even with the appealing Lawrence, "Red Sparrow" is too slow and too long by about 20 minutes, and there were a couple of instances that I found myself dozing when the action slowed to a crawl. Sure, it's peppered with some brief bouts of blood, sex and energy (my favorite scene: when Dominika's anger comes out after she discovers why she was injured) and Lawrence is always a pleasure to watch, but overall, it's still a bore.

"Red Sparrow" is really for die-hard Lawrence fans - she's the only reason to see it - but even they'll admit she's done better.

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