Red Corner

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Jon Avnet

REVIEWED: 11-17-97

Richard Gere, Bai Ling, Bradley Whitford, Byron Mann, James Hong, Peter Donat, Tsai Chin, Tzi Ma, Richard Venture. (R, 122 min.)

From the producer of all three Mighty Ducks films comes this bloated courtroom harangue against Red China, big business, and lawyers. Granted, Gere may have been attracted to the project by the script's decidedly unflattering portrayal of the Chinese government. The actor's ongoing and laudable crusade to draw attention to China's woeful treatment of occupied Tibet may have moved him to hop onboard Red Corner before he realized what a stale courtroom drama the film actually is. Personal politics aside, Avnet's film is a tedious bore, filled with improbable goings-on and a weak mystery involving corporate greed that seems as though it was thrown together over sushi one night. Gere plays Jack Moore, an American attorney in Beijing sent to hammer out a distribution deal for American television shows behind the bamboo curtain. There's competition from a German rival, but Moore appears to have the deal fairly well sewn up when he picks up a beautiful Chinese girl in a bar one night and wakes the next morning to find her dead beside him and himself behind bars. His protests fall on deaf ears, and it becomes apparent that even the U.S. Embassy is hard pressed to aid his case. To make matters worse, no Chinese lawyer will touch his case, fearing repercussions and possible execution. Only Shen Yuelin (Ling), the court-appointed defense attorney, can help him, although at first she believes (as does everybody else, it seems) that he is indeed guilty of murder. Once the pair begin to work together, however, a deeper and more insidious mystery becomes apparent, as frequently happens in films like this. Gere, for his part, looks as though he's sleepwalking through the role, and not just because of his perpetually tousled hair. His character Jack comes off as an unsympathetic lead, and so, toward the third act, when he makes a desperate bid for freedom and flees through the streets toward the lone American flag atop the U.S. Embassy only to give himself back over to the Chinese a few minutes later, you can't help but stifle a chuckle: That's not how it's done. Absurdities such as this abound, and though Red Corner certainly seems to have its heart in the right place, it rarely has anything else there simultaneously. Its wheedling, pedantic tone is grating, and by the time the final credits roll, its stridently moralistic tone is enough to make your eyes bleed.

1.0 stars

--M.S.

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