Red Notice is in theaters for a limited release on Nov. 5 with digital streaming on Netflix Nov. 12, 2021.
On paper, Red Notice reads like a no-brainer crowd-pleaser. Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) directs the trifecta of attractive actors — Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot — in a slick, action-adventure romp. It’s got everything you need for the proverbial “good soup” of moviemaking, but unfortunately, Red Notice just takes sequences from far better films and mushes them all together into some bad goulash.
It starts well enough with an engaging opening that sets up the MacGuffins of the film, which are the three ornate eggs that Mark Antony supposedly gifted to Cleopatra on their wedding day. Two were recovered, with one in a museum in Rome and the other in the private collection of a wealthy arms dealer, while the third exists only in rumor. The Rome-based egg is targeted for thievery on the black market, which spurs FBI special profiler and art specialist John Hartley (Johnson) and Interpol Inspector Das (Ritu Arya) to confirm that it’s still secure. It is not, because famed art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) has already absconded with the priceless piece, creating the first of many, many chases involving the two men trying to outmaneuver one another physically, mentally, or, in Reynolds’ case, with an arsenal of “dad joke”-level quips.
The other player in this quest is Gadot’s Sarah Black, a slinky art thief who considers herself the greatest in the world, and makes it her life’s work to be just one step ahead of both Hartley and Booth as she’s pursuing the eggs for a buyer willing to pay $300 million for their collection and delivery.
In the first act, Thurber teases with a breezy and well-choreographed museum escape that he’s going to subvert the big, loud set pieces expected in these kinds of films with something different, and then he doesn’t deliver. As the players jump from Rome to Bali to London to Valencia and finally, Argentina, playing find the eggs, the less each scenario feels original or fresh. Several action sequences are framed like first-person video games with the camera inside cars during chases, or handheld during fistfights to put us inside the action, but it’s far from innovative or exhilarating. It just feels like gimmicky video game cut scenes that aren’t anything new to the choreography, framing, or even fun of the fights.
There’s also the issue of the audience ever buying that Reynolds is going to hold his own longer than a full-blown punch or two with Johnson in a fist fight. Then Gadot is added to the melee, easily holding her own, or just plain besting both of them. While I appreciate that Gadot’s Black at least gets to take her heels off for major fights, none of these people are superheroes, which means the only one brawling with any cred is Johnson, so there’s a lot of suspension of disbelief required.
And that’s carried through to Reynolds’ Booth, who is a test to the nerves with his constant, terrible running commentary of comebacks and snarkery about everything. Yes, it’s Reynolds’ signature schtick, but in Red Notice, he operates like an obnoxious talking doll with a broken pull string. In yet another suspension of disbelief, it’s unbelievable that neither Gadot or Johnson’s characters wouldn’t gag him with a sock by the second act, especially when Booth gets weirdly emotional with Hartley. Who needs bro bonding in a heist, relic, caper?
Thurber makes a lot of other odd choices in the film, like not letting Chris Diamantopoulos go full weird with his short-man-syndrome arms dealer, Sotto Voce (yes, that’s the character’s name.) Instead, he’s allowed to rasp his lines like he’s in dire need of a lozenge, but never ends up taking the space an intentional bad guy should have in a movie like this. In fact, there’s no real antagonist of note to hang the stakes of the film on at all, and that’s because Thurber is more interested in maintaining the moral liquidity of all the characters so you’re left guessing about their true intentions instead of feeling any sense of danger at any point. It’s just an endless race from museums to Russian prisons to bullfighting rings and jungles, which all blur together without giving anything time to breathe, as we wait for someone to double-cross someone because that’s all the whole movie keeps giving us.
Plus, by the second and third act, every set piece feels derivative from another movie. Ocean’s 11, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, National Treasure, The Mummy, and even Mr. and Mrs. Smith could all rightfully accuse Red Notice of stealing their scenes. What makes it even worse is the fact that this cast is up to doing something truly different. Gadot, when she appears, plays Black like she’s having a lot of fun. Reynolds is more than capable of not coming across like a human blooper reel, but that’s all he’s asked to do here. And Johnson does his best to bring a competent hotness to Hartley so he’s not just the muscle, which makes him the MVP here. But the dialogue and strange, forced bromance that Booth demands of Hartley, even if it’s a joke, is tiring and not as engaging as the filmmakers think it is.
Netflix Spotlight: November 2021
Red Notice really needed a script with a much lighter touch all around. It should have been sexier and smarter, with less action, and more original storytelling. Instead, it’s a mindless diversion that’s blandly familiar, yet thinks it’s far cleverer than it really is.