Red Notice, 2021.
Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Ivan Mbakop.
An Interpol agent tracks the world’s most wanted art thief.
Much as at-home viewing has surged over the last 20-something months, the one thing that streaming platforms are largely still struggling to offer audiences is mega-budget, star-studded movies on the regular.
Netflix has certainly dipped a few toes into the arena with pricey projects like Bright, Triple Frontier, 6 Underground, Outlaw King, and The Irishman, though save for Scorsese’s mob epic, these films have mostly failed to maintain much of a conversation in the cultural space or cultivate a definable fanbase.
The streaming giant clearly hopes Red Notice won’t befall the same fate; stocked with three enormously popular actors, a director with proven blockbuster chops, and an easily digestible premise you could follow with the sound turned off, this is a small-screen tentpole that desperately wants to be all things to all people. Desperately.
The result is less a persuasive argument for the “future” of movies than it is proof that script is king, and that whether playing in multiplexes or your living room, a glossy blockbuster this willfully generic is only entertaining to a point.
The plot could be rehashed from any number of breezy action-adventure films from cinema’s past; smooth-talking forger Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) is competing with master art thief The Bishop (Gal Gadot) to retrieve three prized ornamental eggs hidden around the world, which collectively will net the owner a cool $300 million. But the additional spanner in the works is bumbling FBI profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), a tank of a man who boulders his way across the globe in pursuit of Booth and the Bishop wherever they materialise.
There’s not really anything wrong with a movie of this kind clinging to stock where its premise is concerned; the MacGuffin is a time-honoured tradition of adventure movies after all, but it’s a shame that the bones of the script – penned solely by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence, Skyscraper) – offer little more imagination.
Watching Red Notice quickly becomes a game of Cliche Bingo; almost every scene in the film feels like a semi-thused facsimile of something we’ve all seen before in a better movie. The picture never wants for enthusiasm thanks to the game charms of its cast, though it’s truly disappointing that so much talent, money, and effort was expended on such a pedestrian piece of work.
And it’s tough not to see the script’s programmatic nature as a cynical calculation; it never strains itself to be much creative or even remotely left-field because it’s so transparently targeting every possible human being with a Netflix account. The result is a sort of tapioca pudding of cinema; blandly effective and yet entirely devoid of anything that could pass for conscientious or – gasp – artful.
Beyond the script’s laughably generic throughline, the moment-to-moment dialogue offers low-gear wit for the most part, which is especially shameful when you’ve cast a world-class smart-ass on the level of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, seemingly smelling the gig’s true nature a mile off, rarely rises above his well-honed motormouth shtick and in turn gives the least-interesting of the three lead performances.
Johnson, a near-literal mountain of charisma who rarely stretches himself even an inch in these assignments, is at least a smidge goofier than usual here, offering up a doofy Xerox of his Hobbs from the Fast and Furious movies.
Yet somewhat surprisingly it’s Gal Gadot, who’s never had much of a real opportunity to flash her acting chops, that most delivers on the promise of her casting, proving a scrappy-yet-elegant spoiler to two men her Bishop could clearly outfox in her sleep.
Whether she’s bundling up warm to taunt Booth and Hartley in a Russian gulag or donning a slinky red dress to kick some serious ass, Gadot has never seemed like she’s having this much fun, and the camera absolutely loves her. If the Wonder Woman movies didn’t quite convince you, she abundantly proves her appeal here and damn-near runs away with the whole movie.
But if there’s a single area where Red Notice truly disappoints, it’s the action. Despite Thurber’s fluid chase camerawork and deference towards epic sweeping crane shots, the action design throughout is staggeringly dull for such an expensive, hyped-up movie. Neither the scale nor the energy feels worthy of the film’s epic price tag, touting a weird modesty which is even stranger when you’ve got three of the biggest action stars on the planet at the epicenter.
Were the action stronger it might be easier to forgive the utterly milquetoast writing, including the film’s softer-than-satin antagonist, Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), who feels like he came straight from central casting with the brief to impersonate an especially forgettable James Bond villain.
Interest perks up slightly for the shamelessly daft finale, awash in silly plot twists and an hilariously self-deprecating surprise cameo, but when it’s all said and done and the inevitable sequel is teased, it’s tough not to shrug and wonder aloud, “Is that it?”
Only the coming days will dictate whether or not Red Notice drives enough Viewer Engagement to facilitate a sequel, and while there’s every possibility a second film could push the boat out into more adventurous waters, isn’t it much more realistic that it simply delivers more of the same passable fare you’ll half-interestedly watch while browsing on your phone?
It’s all too appropriate that Netflix’s biggest blockbuster to date offers mediocre pleasures that feel wholly algorithm-driven. It’s never less than watchable, but shoots so broadly for every conceivable demographic as to shirk creativity entirely.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.