If it were less straight-faced, Red Notice would be a functional comedy movie pastiche of Indiana Jones and its ilk. As is, the adventure movie manages some laughs among its hare-brained globe-trotting, carried along by three lead performers that, while in their element, could do with getting their hands a little dirtier.
Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds play rival criminals, each at the top of their game, on the hunt for valuable golden eggs that have been missing for centuries. Right behind them is Dwayne Johnson‘s John Hartley, who becomes embroiled in the search for the hidden treasure through some wily deception.
Reynolds and Johnson form a loose team, trying to stay one step ahead of Gadot, who’s more than a match for either. They bounce from country to country, set-piece to set-piece, trying to outwit, outsmart, and out-steal each other for the ultimate prize. Some parts have an inkling of Mission: Impossible, others more National Treasure, all stuffed with one-liners and not a drop of blood, making it all feel a bit flat and lifeless.
Elaborate chases make up the bulk of the film, with one lead running from another, or them both trying to escape capture. Johnson and Reynolds engage in a madcap dash through a museum to start with, then there’s a Russian prison, a rich collector’s vault, and a jaunt through the jungle. The novelty of having three of Hollywood’s biggest stars at once isn’t wasted, with as much time given to them talking as possible among all the punching and climbing.
Truly, your mileage on Red Notice will depend on your tolerance for Reynolds’s brand of odd, self-effacing quips, and Johnson’s po-faced, tough guy irritation. Both actors have a particular comfort zone, and the script largely runs on putting them in a room and playing them off each other. That all said, if you watch Johnson’s films thinking he needs to lighten up, or wish someone would tell Reynolds to put a sock in it, you’ll likely find something to giggle at.
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Gal Gadot’s Sarah Black steps in and out as she pleases, occasionally being roped into the escapades. Though she’s present and accounted for, this isn’t quite the three-pronged blockbuster promotional materials promised. Not to underestimate her role – indeed, she’s more involved than one might think – but the Netflix clip of her giving Johnson and Reynolds the once over is most of the fun she gets to have,
This is Johnson’s third collaboration with writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber, carrying on from 2016’s Central Intelligence and 2018’s Skyscraper. Without ample use of explosions, Thurber seems to revel in being able to take a more kinetic approach, using more hand-to-hand combat and such. There’s something very appealing in Ryan Reynolds piloting a helicopter while Dwayne Johnson makes a daring leap over a fiery drawbridge, an element of fan fiction coming to life that Thurber manages to capture.
That’s not to mention Johnson, once nicknamed the ‘Brahma Bull’ in professional wrestling, suffering a guffaw-inducing encounter with an actual bull. Yet, for how gung-ho it all is, we never get a sense of danger. Nobody gets too scuffed up or bruised. Sweat hangs on the brow, but not one crimson droplet to insinuate actual damage. Reports circulated in 2019 of actors, Johnson among them, who demanded they couldn’t look too bad in an onscreen scuffle.
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Red Notice comes from that ethos. Prison riots, roughing it on trains, battling through old Nazi bunkers, Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot’s faces survive it all without a scratch. In this universe, they’re all Bruce Willis from Unbreakable, cursed with the ability to feel pain while being impervious to its effects.
The actors are action figures in their own movie, with motivations that have the broadest of psychologies under-girding them. This has the movement and sound of something Ethan Hunt would get up to, but like Jungle Cruise earlier this year, it comes short on the oomph because of the reluctance to really get dirty. It’s hard to believe you’re being taken on some massive journey when the audience advocates look like they’ve just gotten ready for a cosplay photoshoot.
Given that it’s coming to Netflix, Red Notice is quite exciting. Three marquee performers, in one film, on whatever device you like. How’s that for convenience? But when that same cast can’t bear to have you see any damage done to their gorgeous chin, it’s just not the same. Smooshing toys together is fine, but we turn to the cinema for something more, and until that changes, films like this are little more than convenient distractions.
Red Notice is in select theatres November 5, and Netflix November 12.