‘Red Sparrow’ with Jennifer Lawrence never takes off

In this image released by Twentieth Century Fox, Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Joel Edgerton appear in a scene from "Red Sparrow." (Murray Close/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

In the James Bond films, sex with a globe-trotting spy seems to be fun, fun, fun. A martini, a tuxedo, a witty line or two and then it’s off to a luxurious bed with two tanned, muscular bodies. Not so in the new thriller “Red Sparrow,” where the sex is cold, ugly and often violent.

This dark, meandering and cliche-ridden bummer starring a trying-hard Jennifer Lawrence tries to reach for a cool and stylish look at contemporary spycraft but often falls victim to cartoon violence and a muddled story. The creators may call it erotic but it’s as erotic as a visit to the dentist.

Francis Lawrence, the director of the last three “Hunger Games” films, reunites with Lawrence for more adult fare but one likely to be remembered more for the outdoor junket photos of Lawrence in a thigh-slit dress in chilly London while her male co-creators wore coats.

Based on a book by former CIA agent Jason Matthews, “Red Sparrow” stars Lawrence as Dominika, a Moscow ballerina who has to rethink her career after a devastating injury. With the advice of her high ranking spy uncle, she goes to a “sparrow” school where the students are taught to use seduction as their main weapon.

“Every human is a puzzle of need,” the stern headmistress played by Charlotte Rampling tells her recruits. “You must become the missing piece and they will tell you everything.”

Dominika isn’t buying it and later complains to her uncle, “You sent me to whore school.” But she’s going to do it — forced to perform sex acts in front of the class — to pay for her sick mother’s care, so that gets her conveniently off the hook morally.

Our heroine is soon unleashed onto the world, a little like Luc Besson’s “La Femme Nikita” but without that film’s visual coherence or empathy. (Lawrence does sport awesome bangs, so there’s that).

But what really drives Dominika is never very clear, how she goes from a tea-drinking dancer to someone perfectly happy caving in someone’s head with a cane. That’s partly so viewers don’t know where her loyalties lie and will stay intrigued, but she gets lost in what could be a double-cross or triple-cross.

“Red Sparrow,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.” Running time: 139 minutes. One star out of four.

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