Red Notice review: a very ordinary way to spend $200m

Red Notice
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Red Notice, starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, is Netflix’s most expensive blockbuster to date: and here’s our review.

I’ve fonder memories than most of 1991’s infamous Bruce Willis action comedy Hudson Hawk.

If you’ve not had the pleasure, it’s the movie where Willis and the late Danny Aiello undertake daring burglaries whilst performing classic swing numbers. Its otherwise contemporary plot centres a quest around Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machine from the 1500s, and in truth that does still feel a bit WTF to this day. Anyway, the movie was a notable box office failure, with audience numbers well below expectations.

I’m going to wager that amongst those who did see the film though was writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber. His globe-trotting blockbuster Red Notice – a project that’s persuaded Netflix to stump up around $200m when it bought the project off Universal Pictures (who cashed out when it all got a bit expensive) – after all opens with some hokum about Cleopatra’s third egg, a MacGuffin that feels drafted in from a Hudson Hawk sequel that never was.

It combines that plot  with the Red Notice of the title, defined as something issued by Interpol to instigate a global hunt for very wanted bad people. Against that backdrop, we’re introduced to some of those bad people, and the one charged with catching them. Thus, FBI profiler John Hartley, played by Dwayne Johnson, along with Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot as art thieves Nolan Booth and Sarah Black. All in a story that initially threatens to be a three-hander.

Not so though, as Gadot is switfly relegated to the much smaller role, and we’re left with Hartley – who’s soon framed – and Booth on the search for one of those aforementioned eggs. A Dwayne Johnson-Ryan Reynolds mismatched buddy movie, if you well.


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Plot, it’d be fair to say, isn’t much of a strength of this one, and instead its charms come from bringing those world-famous movie stars together and letting them play. Thurber certainly gives them a big canvas too, taking us from a Russian prison, to Spain, off to the jungle and then to more places I don’t want to spoil. He’s also careful to stop every now and then for a big stunt, or an action moment, or a zipping drone shot. Something to go some way to justify the budget for what’s actually a pretty ordinary tale. Plus, it’s a blockbuster that to its credit is done and dusted in under two hours. Its parts, therefore, are numerous.

If only it was a better film.

The early signs are positive. There’s a bit right at the start where Johnson points an iPad at an egg and determines it a fake, and I settled in for what felt like it was going to be a big movie with its tongue smashing regularly against the side of its cheek. Throw in a bit of Coca-Cola product placement to uncover that the egg is a fraud (subtlety isn’t a strength, but I came to respect that), and the fact that Thurber is the man who gave us Dodgeball, and I was expecting something at the least to be a bit of fun.

Yet Red Notice is at best – after that start – steadfastly ordinary, very safe, and ultimately really quite flat. It took me a while to realise why: nobody really seems to be taking a risk here, or using the resources at their disposal to give us something we’ve not had better before. In terms of its key sequences, there’s a moment where we get the build-up to a sort of heist, and it left me wanting to reach for a Mission: Impossible film. A fight against a strongly lit backdrop reminded me to watch Skyfall again. And by the time the film invokes Indiana Jones, it begins to feel like an exercise in generating recommendations rather than becoming its own thing.

What’s particularly disappointing is that Johnson and Reynolds are doing what they’re already done on the big screen lots of times – even earlier this year – just not with any distinction. The wise-cracking turn that Reynolds puts in for instance – and Johnson is the straight man to him in this one – is so deeply within his comfort zone, he’d need a map to find his way out of it again. Since Deadpool, this hugely talented actor has been doing variants of his wise-cracking leading man turn, and he’s as good as anyone at it. But this does feel like one iteration of pretty much the same performance too many.

Gadot has a bit more fun, but doesn’t get the screen time to do a great deal. Other characters come in and out to not much effect. Then there’s the finale, which I obviously won’t spoil, but, well, yeah. Sometimes you can have a bit too much money I’d suggest.

It’s not a disaster this by any measure. But going back to Hudson Hawk: as much as that was a film beset by egos, production problems and moments that didn’t hold a lot of scrutiny, at least it had style. It took a gamble or two. It had some verve to it.

Red Notice doesn’t really. Instead, it’s fine, and does what it’s made for. It fills the screen for two hours.

And after that? It recommends some other things to watch, its job very much done…

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