It's one thing to dedicate time and effort to supporting a good cause like, say, freeing Tibet from Chinese rule, for example. It's another thing to believe you're helping the cause by starring in an alarmingly bad movie that points a finger at the Chinese government, yet ignores both the roots and the real implications of its oppression. I'm sure Richard Gere had genuine intentions. But his new film, Red Corner, is so unrealistic, so contrived and so blatantly 'Hollywood' that Gere can't possibly imagine he's opening any eyes to the problem, or any doors to its solution, for that matter.

In this overwrought and embarrassingly corny courtroom drama, Gere stars as Jack Moore, a 'brilliant' (according to the trailer) entertainment lawyer about to close a huge satellite communications deal with China. To celebrate, he picks up a Chinese fashion model at a Beijing nightclub and brings her to his hotel room. In the morning, he wakes to find her dead body, her blood on his hands and his fingerprints on the knife. With no questions asked, Moore is immediately arrested for the murder and snatched up by the claws of the Chinese judicial system, which boasts, 'Leniency for those who confess, severity for those who resist.' Moore, of course, resists.

Unable to get help from the American embassy, Moore is appointed an attorney, Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling), who, at first, insists on a plea of guilty-partly because she believes he is. The evidence certainly looks that way. But Moore just can't figure out why everyone thinks he committed the crime. Or why they won't allow him to explain. Or why he's mysteriously beaten in jail. Or why they crush his glasses so he can't read law books. Or why the 'jury' at his trial has the right to decide when they're 'bored' with a certain line of questioning. The movie suggests that all these things happen because the Chinese government (instead of the screenplay) is BAD. But 'bad' to whom? To some arrogant American who wakes up in blood, with his prints on the murder weapon, and suddenly can't believe he's a suspect? It's unfair, Moore whines. Maybe, Yuelin points out, but China has a lot more people than America, and a lot less crime. Despite her logic, Moore argues his innocence so vehemently that Yuelin starts to believe him and decides to change the plea. As the facts begin to surface, the story winds into a labyrinth of contrivance, from which its themes begin to muddle. Yuelin wants to be 'silent no longer,' and 'stand up for what is right,' which seems to have broader connotations with regard to the plight of the Chinese people. But what does all that have to do with getting Moore off death row?

Two events in the movie are so ridiculous that they are worth mentioning. In the first, Moore escapes and outruns the Chinese to the safety of the American embassy, where he learns that Yuelin has put her law license up as his 'bail.' Moore then draws upon his aforementioned 'brilliance' to turn around and throw himself back into Chinese prison-all because 'she went out on a limb for me.' Ugh. The second big disaster involves the pivotal courtroom scene, which is polluted with last-minute, circumstantial, 'one-more-witness!' evidence and a dramatic revelation reminiscent of an old 'Scooby Doo' episode ('... And I would've got away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!') When we finally understand the convoluted plot to frame Moore for the murder (which, if convicted, would result in his execution), we wonder: Why didn't they just kill him in the first place, instead of the girl?

The film's facts about the Chinese judicial system are probably accurate for the most part, and obviously point toward the need for change. But the film pumps up those facts with a lot of hot air and very little logic or explanation. Instead of presenting an intelligent look at the true oppression suffered at the hands of Mainland China, Red Corner uses the oppression as a backdrop for a sappy, unbelievable courtroom whodunit. It's hard to tell if the goal was to exploit the issue for the film's dramatic benefit, or the other way around. In either case, it backfires. Richard Gere should have known better.

--Cynthia Langston