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IN SHORT: Two Hours felt like Three
As bad as it sounds, there's a lot of impressive stuff in Jon Avnet's Red Corner. Allow me the luxury of detailing some of it, 'cuz it points right at the reason why the flick is a difficult sit.
When Red Corner was first conceived by writer Robert King, it was set in Communist Russia. An American man against a commie kangaroo court system. Easy to conceive. Easy to stereotype. Then the USSR fell and the story was shifted to Red China. About which little is truly known. King did his research and went to China to see what he could see.
Of course, the Chinese don't like that. They certainly don't like movies made about them in which they don't come off looking like a rose. So director Jon Avnet sneaked a crew and co-star Bai Ling into Beijing for what he calls "guerrilla filmmaking" and still photo shots. Digital Domain computer composited all this stuff with studio sets in LA and it all comes off looking like the real thing. Which is all the more fascinating 'cuz it's fairly well known that star Richard Gere is persona non grata on the Mainland.
Every detail, so we are told, was duplicated as close to real as possible. When you pay that much attention to the minutia, real things like story and characters are left to fend for themselves. For what Red Corner really is, when you take away all the Stranger in a Strange Land and minutia bits, is an episode of Perry Mason set in Beijing. The problem here is that Perry is now two people, and the sum of the two doesn't equal a whole.
Gere, as usual, either hits the mark or misses wide. His Jack Moore character is remarkably bland, given the power and smarts he demonstrates. Bai Ling, as his attorney, has no screen presence at all. Sometimes the character seems competent, sometimes totally lost. By the time we see her work the system to Gere's advantage, she's yanked offscreen so that Gere can save his ass.
That's the catch of the Communist system. No stars, except the Chairman (and Mao's been dead for years). It's one thing for a Chinese attorney to turn against the system. It's a greater thing to let her defeat it.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Red Corner, he would have paid...
All spark and no fire.
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