Red Notice (2021)
Pros and Cons
Netflix’s Red Notice would have probably benefitted if it were directed by regular Dwayne Johnson collaborator Brad Peyton, who worked with the bulky performer on the immensely enjoyable San Andreas (2015) and Rampage (2018). Instead, it’s helmed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, the guy who made two of Johnson’s more underwhelming films, Central Intelligence (2016) and Skyscraper (2018). Granted, Red Notice, which Thurber also wrote, is probably his most entertaining movie thus far, partly thanks to the addition of stars Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, along with a gigantic production budget from Netflix — it’s been advertised as the streaming giant’s most expensive film to date. On paper, Red Notice sounds as though it should be a bona fide winner — it’s a globe-trotting caper starring three of the most charismatic stars on the planet. In reality, however, Red Notice is as generic a film as they come and almost feels as though it were created by a Hollywood algorithm. And while it’s a generally enjoyable time, a more inventive script could have saved it from streaming mediocrity.
The story follows F.B.I. criminal profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), who’s working with Interpol agent Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) to catch international master thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). Nolan is after a priceless artifact known as Cleopatra’s Egg, one of three golden treasures that an Egyptian billionaire is hoping to collect to give to his daughter as a wedding gift, offering whoever obtains all three a hefty reward.
After a pretty nifty chase sequence set at Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, the wise-cracking Booth escapes with the Egg until he’s apprehended at his affluent home in Bali. But, when the Egg that Hartley returns winds up being a fake, he’s framed for the theft and is thrown into a remote Russian prison on a snowy peak; and, to rub salt into the wound, he’s placed in the same cell as Booth. It turns out that the real Egg has been stolen by Sarah Black, aka ‘The Bishop’ (Gal Gadot), who’s pinned the whole thing on Hartley and happens to be looking for the Eggs, too. After realizing they’ve got similar pasts (both have backstories revolving around their fathers), Hartley and Booth form an unlikely alliance in prison. Hence, the pair attempt to escape from their incarceration and go after The Bishop to collect the remaining two Eggs before she does. They learn that the second is in possession of notorious arms dealer Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), which he has stored in his heavily fortified private vault, while Booth claims to know the secret location of the third. And so, the goose chase is on.
Inspired by films such as Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) and National Treasure (2004), Thurber’s screenplay sets up the pieces right away, as well as the history of Cleopatra’s Eggs, which are scattered across the globe, allowing the film to move at a swift pace. Of course, we get multiple double-crossings and a few twists and turns, but if you’ve watched a lot of films (like me), you’ll see ‘em all coming from a mile away. And that makes Red Notice more derivative than daring seeing as it basically follows a blueprint that was popular in blockbuster cinema a couple of decades ago.
Luckily, Red Notice doesn’t skimp on action, the flick jumping into it right away with Hartley going after Booth in a museum, running up scaffolding, and even leaping out of the window. Other standout moments are a ridiculous prison escape atop an icy mountain and a chaotic car chase in a jungle mine — it’s all nonsense, of course. There is also a slick sequence set at Voce’s mansion, where our heroes infiltrate the manor during a lavish masquerade party and break into his vault before Gadot’s Bishop takes on our leading men wearing a racy red dress.
Although this is supposed to be a globe-trotting caper, the pandemic kinda thwarted Thurber’s plans for an international shoot, with most of the film being photographed in soundstages in Atlanta. This takes away from the authenticity of the escapade — a brief pitstop inside a CGI-heavy bullfighting arena in Spain really illustrates this. Irrespective, Red Notice is a very nice-looking movie, due to some nifty drone work and the top-tier cinematography by Markus Förderer, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), which makes the whole thing feel quite cinematic.
It helps that our three leads are so magnetic and really complement one another (their banter is an absolute hoot). Dwayne Johnson delivers his usual shtick as our beefy hero. Still, he’s actually quite good at this sort of thing and has fun with a few self-referential jokes and lines — it’s also funny that the Rock ends up in the jungle by the film’s third act, seeing as there’s a running gag around the big guy’s involvement with movies set in the jungle. Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool (2016), is also good; his humor is a bit sharper than usual. What’s more, Reynolds exhibits the same level of star power as Johnson and doesn’t come off feeling like his sidekick. Reynolds’ character, however, is hard to swallow; he’s supposed to be the most wanted art thief in the world (a title he’s trying to hold on to, with Gadot’s Bishop vying for the top spot), so he’s agile and conniving, yet he’s also comically joke-y, qualities that don’t usually mesh. Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman (2017), is probably the weakest of the three and doesn’t show much range; however, she’s still great and holds her own, chiefly during the back half of the film.
Although labeling a movie as ‘turn-your-brain-off fun’ might feel like a back-handed compliment, Red Notice is precisely that, a breezy 118-minute ride that feels like a throwback to the early 2000s. It won’t change your life, but it could make your night a smidge better. I’d stream a second chapter!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)