Before he made action pieces like Skyscraper and the current Red Notice, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber made Dodgeball and We’re the Millers, so his comedy roots are strong. (He also helmed Central Intelligence, but I never claimed all of his comedies were winners.) Even still, it’s somewhat shocking how subpar Red Notice is, both as a comedy and an action movie, considering the presence of Ryan Reynolds (whom I still find very funny), Dwayne Johnson (who can be funny), and Gal Gadot (who has a nice smile). Said to be Netflix’s most expensive movie in the company’s history of financing feature films, Red Notice is so aggressively run-of-the-mill that it just sits there on the screen, daring us to laugh while flooding us with lame jokes, tired action sequences, and a heist storyline that isn’t remotely clever or inventive.
Johnson plays FBI profiler John Hartley, who has compiled a profile on master art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) and is able to anticipate his next bit of thievery—one of three ornate eggs said to have belonged to Cleopatra. Two of the eggs are in the hands of known collectors, with the location of the third egg being unknown to anyone, except perhaps Booth. Hartley is tipped to Booth’s whereabouts by another art thief known only as the Bishop (Gadot), who actually plays both men to get the egg herself and, through internet trickery, makes both wanted criminals. That gets them chased by Interpol Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya), who eventually captures the two and sends them to a Siberian prison.
Reynolds is his usual sarcastic motormouth who relies on playing the clown to disarm his opponent. But he has to put away this most crucial assets to work with the mostly stoic Johnson in order to escape the prison (Booth is also a well-known escape artist) and back on the trail of the second egg. That egg is owned by the filthy rich Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopolos), who just happens to be throwing a masquerade ball where all three of our leads attempt to steal the egg. It should be mentioned that the payday itself is not the two eggs, but the complete set, which an Egyptian oil tycoon wants as a wedding gift for his daughter, who happens to be named Cleopatra; he’s willing to pay handsomely to be able to do so.
There are double-crosses and triple-crosses, but in the end, the two thieves and Hartley belong to a mutual admiration society for each other’s abilities, and it often seems like their goals are aligned, so we assume at some point, they’ll all be working together. In fact, it’s pretty easy to assume a lot of what’s coming next in Red Notice, because it’s brutally predictable. Everyone is stylishly dressed, seems to have all the equipment and supplies they need wherever they go in the world, and everyone seems to have the uncanny ability to predict what everyone else is going to do next, leaving no room for actual spontaneity.
What’s fascinating about Red Notice is that it’s a film that thinks that just by tossing these three megastars into situations together, magic will result. But the plot demands something a little smarter than that; we’re meant to believe that these are three highly intelligent people doing what they do best, and nothing about these performances captures that. Money can buy you big names to top-line your movie and it can buy you stunt teams and effects wizards for days, but it can’t buy quality material for any of these elements to work within. These actors have charisma, charm and looks, there’s no denying that. But by putting them in this bloated, soulless production, you make them into talking mannequins or wax museum figures putting on a show. The film is not only bad, it’s deflating and gutless.
The film is now playing in select theaters and will begin streaming November 12 on Netflix.
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