Review by C.J. Bunce
Fans of either of the three stars of Red Notice will probably flock to this latest direct-to-Netflix movie just to see their favorite star in their next picture. But Red Notice, which arrived on the streaming platform this weekend, is another production that falls into the vibe of the old direct-to-VHS movies–it’s something you’d watch for free on cable but probably wouldn’t pay full movie ticket prices for it. Going back to the first of Netflix’s exclusive production/distribution projects, Brad Pitt’s War Machine, subscribers began to see this trend, which, despite enormous box office budgets and big-name directors and actors, deliver only ho-hum content. These include The Cloverfield Paradox, Extinction, IO, Polar, The Irishman, and Mank. That isn’t to say Netflix never gets it right. Roma, The Highwaymen, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Extraction, 6 Underground, and Rebecca are exceptions.
But how do you go wrong with Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot? When that’s the only thing you deliver.
And that isn’t even enough. Any one of these leads should have been able to hold a movie like this with their star power, charm, charisma, etc. So why didn’t they? You can blame a weak, completely derivative heist plot, uneven direction, or lack of pizzazz via style and sets and music, but ultimately it’s the lacking of any novel ideas–anything new–that makes this movie hard to watch. And it’s a reminder these stars are only stars because of the great screenwriters that put them there.
Ryan Reynolds is almost in the lead role as Nolan Booth, a candidate for greatest thief in the world, on the hunt for three Egyptian decorated ostrich eggs supposedly owned by Cleopatra, which a current king is offering a billion dollars to acquire for his daughter Cleopatra’s birthday (not surprisingly she’s young and could care less, preferring a visit from Ed Sheeran). Reynolds plays the same guy he played in Deadpool and Green Lantern and 6 Underground (or enter any other Reynolds movie here)–at some point audiences are left to think Reynolds can only play Reynolds. Netflix’s 6 Underground is relevant because it had more new action ideas and stunts, and a more interesting if lesser known cast–and is a much better movie for it.
Have we seen Gal Gadot show any acting range yet? Her roles also echo each other, and director-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, Central Intelligence) seems to forget she plays a regular human master thief here, yet he has her perform feats more appropriate to Wonder Woman. He just can’t pull it off as the next Atomic Blonde. Reynolds also seems to be doing more than a magician could muster.
Which leaves Dwayne Johnson, the next generation movie star in the vein of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Wayne. As with those three, here it’s a reminder that as much as audiences love him, his roles are often similar. Yes, the believable charm is back, but isn’t this the exact character he plays in the Fast & Furious movies? Johnson could help his fans by being more selective with his scripts. Just look at the Jumanji series and Jungle Cruise and you’ll see him in much better roles.
Thurber seems to be reaching for James Bond action, the double-crossing trio of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., or even the high adventure of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a long series of chases, without the fun and story elements of National Treasure. If this were your first venture into the genres, it might just work for you. But most adult audiences have seen this before, and done better. It’s easy to say “forget the plot, enjoy the actors,” but that doesn’t even work here.
So who is the best character of the film? That actually falls to Ritu Arya (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Humans, The Umbrella Academy) as Inspector Das, a cop heading up the law enforcement efforts to catch the thieves and secure the rare Faberge-styled eggs. If only Thurber had expanded her character, or had one of the other three actors in her more developed role. Inspector Das is also the character that explains why the film is called Red Notice, in literally the final scene, with another parallel to The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Is Red Notice horrible? No, it’s merely disappointing it doesn’t have more to offer for the obviously expensive cast assembled. Take a look at Jungle Cruise (reviewed here), for a much better movie experience in a similar action-adventure genre. If you’ve already gone through all our other recommendations and have nothing else to do for two hours, or staring at one or all of the leads for two hours is entertainment enough, Red Notice is streaming for you now on Netflix.