Film Review – Red Notice
Red Notice (2021) accomplishes the remarkable feat of taking charismatic actors and draining all their charisma. Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot are bonafide movie stars who have each helmed blockbuster franchises. Yet here they are, galivanting about in an action comedy that is utterly bland and lifeless. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber does not give them anything to work with outside of a thinly veiled treasure hunt plot, where they travel around the world in search of an elusive MacGuffin. But instead of an entertaining romp we get a lackadaisical drag.
It’s not enough to simply cast big names and hope that their on-screen chemistry can carry an entire production. The narrative is structured to solely rely on the qualities each performer is famous for. Johnson is the hulking, everyman hero, Reynolds is the wisecracking bad boy, and Gadot is the alluring ass kicker. What they bring can only go so far when they inhabit absolute non-characters. Each of them has played better versions of their roles in better movies. We can sense them growing tired of doing the same old schtick. This is especially true for Reynolds. While his quippy punchlines fit well in Deadpool (2016), here they land with a cringeworthy thud.
There’s nothing wrong with movies that depend on the name recognition of its stars. I would bet that audiences went to see To Catch a Thief (1955) not just for the story but because Cary Grant and Grace Kelly looked good together on screen. But what made those films enjoyable was the wit and charm they displayed. The best of the bunch had style and elegance that added to the joy of watching them. Red Notice does not have this. In fact, there’s a level a cynicism at play – as though simply putting Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot in an exotic location will make up for the lack of an identity. There’s no personality here, no unique traits or artistry that would make it the least bit interesting. It’s the equivalent of cotton candy.
Johnson plays John Hartley, an FBI agent on the hunt for Reynolds’ infamous thief, Nolan Booth. In a lengthy and exhausting prologue, we learn of three priceless eggs once owned by Cleopatra that have been scattered across the globe. Nolan is after each of them, and after a series of inane contrivances, John is forced to team up with him. Things get complicated when the two encounter Gadot’s “The Bishop,” the world’s most wanted thief who is always one step ahead of everyone else. The plot devolves into an odd couple road trip, where John and Nolan must survive Russian prisons, Spanish bull fights, and the jungles of South America to retrieve the eggs and outsmart The Bishop.
The editing has such an impatient approach that we never stay in any one place for more than a few minutes. Bright red letters flash on the screen indicating what part of the world we are in and appear so often that it becomes distracting. Although we travel to many different places, Thurber’s direction never allows us to take in the sights. The pyramids of Egypt are one of the great wonders of the world, and yet we aren’t given the chance to soak in their majesty. The Louvre in Paris is a beautifully designed museum (arguably the most beautiful) and yet the camera is awkwardly pointed away from it. When characters relax on a yacht in the middle of the sparklingly ocean, it looks like any generic vacation spot. Why take us to such amazing places and not give us a chance to look around?
The action is crafted as discounted versions of the set pieces in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and National Treasure (2004). The most interesting stylistic technique is the use of drone shots that fly through city streets and down into deep caverns. The frame zooms past speeding cars and trucks in the middle of chase sequences, adding a bird’s eye view of what’s happening. But that’s about as much fun as we get. Instead, we get John and Nolan bickering with one another through scene after scene of badly rendered CGI action. One sequence, in which they square off against The Bishop in hand-to-hand combat, should have been a standout. Sadly, the choppy editing and dim lighting obstructs our view of the choreography. It’s a shame that the actors and stunt coordinators put so much effort to learn every punch and kick just for us not to see it.
Red Notice isn’t interested in telling a good story or adding something new to the genre. It acts as an algorithm, made to appease as wide an audience as possible for monetary gain. It’s disposable content with little value to offer in return. Mindless fun is totally acceptable, but this was focused more on the “mindless” and not so much on the “fun.”