Red Notice Review: Dwayne Johnson And Ryan Reynolds Bumble Through Netflix's Glossy, Lifeless Action Movie

What can $200 million get you these days? How about an ultra-glossy, ultra-derivate action-adventure designed solely to launch a franchise? Netflix reportedly paid a small fortune for "Red Notice," a new globe-hopping blockbuster featuring mega-stars Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot, and they didn't get their money's worth. "Red Notice" is art by algorithm; a film that hasn't so much been made as it's been assembled, like a Frankenstein's monster, stitched together from other, better franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, the "Fast and Furious" saga, "Indiana Jones" movies, "National Treasure," even the 1999 "The Mummy" all serve as blueprints here, and while all movies borrow from other movies, they're usually not so shameless. Even better, they're usually not so boring.

None of the IP thievery would matter much if "Red Notice" resulted in a fun, entertaining adventure. No one will go into this thing expecting something intellectual, but at the very least, "Red Notice" could have the decency to give audiences a diverting and engrossing bit of pop art. Instead, we're thrown scraps. "You like all this crap from other movies?" asks "Red Notice." "Well, here it is again, done poorly." Of course, in the modern era of Netflix, where the streaming giant never releases actual viewer numbers, I fully expect an announcement that multiple "Red Notice" sequels are on the way any day now. Hell, Netflix is turning their abysmal actioner "Extraction" into a franchise, and "Red Notice" is at least better than that Chris Hemsworth vehicle. Not much better, mind you. But still. 

There's something insidious at work here. Watching "Red Notice" is like watching a movie that was created by artificial intelligence. Nothing here feels real, or genuine, or particularly well thought out. I'm sure at one point you've seen one of those viral memes where someone claims they "forced a bot" to watch hours and hours of a certain genre of film, and then programmed that bot to write a screenplay in the same genre. If such a thing were really possible, it would likely result in "Red Notice." I can easily picture writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber feeding page after page of cliches and tropes into a computer, generating the "Red Notice" screenplay in the process, and then using it as-is without even reading it first. We should not have to settle for such creatively bankrupt entertainment as this. We deserve better. I think. 

Cleopatra's Egg

Opening with a faux History Channel special devoted to something called "Cleopatra's Lost Egg," "Red Notice" drops us into the high-stakes world of art thievery. And according to the film, that world involves lots of running, chasing, shooting, parkour, and wisecracking. Lots and lots and lots of wisecracking. Look, I get it: movies like this don't have to be realistic. Archeologists don't have daring adventures like Indiana Jones, so "Red Notice" can be forgiven for making it seem like art thieves live their lives like James Bond. But the "Indiana Jones" movies also have the distinction of being good, something that can't be said for "Red Notice." You have to give a little to get a little, that's all I'm saying. 

We're told that Mark Antony once gave Cleopatra three golden eggs, and in the centuries since that ancient Egyptian gift exchange, two of the eggs have been found and one remains missing. As you might imagine, there's a high demand for that lost egg, and that's where our story kicks in. One of the eggs resides in a museum, and FBI Profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) is pretty sure that Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), the "world's greatest art thief," is coming for it. He's right, and Hartley, working with Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya, doing the best she can with a criminally underwritten role) catch Booth red-handed. A foot chase through the museum ensues where we see that Booth is really skilled at parkour for some reason. Must be an art thief thing.

After causing approximately 100 bazillion dollars in damage to the museum, Booth escapes with the egg — only to be immediately tracked down and caught by Hartley. Case closed! But not so fast. Before Hartley can bask in the success of a job well done, he, too, ends up arrested. Inspector Das informs him she got a hot tip that Hartley isn't who he says he is. It doesn't help that the FBI claims they never heard of him, and Hartley has a mysterious off-shore bank account that was recently loaded up with lots of money. Hartley swears he's being set up, and he knows just who is responsible: The Bishop (Gal Gadot), a glamorous art thief who helped tip Hartley off to Booth's opening heist. But with no proof to back up his claims of innocence, Hartley lands in a remote black site prison that looks like a haunted castle (is that where they sent art thieves?). And wouldn't ya know, Booth is in that prison, too — and he and Hartley end up sharing a cell. 

All of this unfolds at a breakneck speed, and I will give "Red Notice" this: it's not overlong. So many blockbusters are overstuffed, clocking in at well over 2 hours, but "Red Notice" keeps things at a few minutes short of 120 minutes. That's both a blessing a curse. It's good because it doesn't force us to spend too much time with the movie, but it's bad because it makes nearly every scene feel inconsequential. I'd dare say there's not a single memorable scene or set piece on display here. Instead, the script moves from point A to point B to point C in the blink of an eye. You start to get the sense that everyone here wants to wrap things up so they can get to the sequel (and make more money). 

How To Not Make a Buddy Comedy

Since they're now stuck with each other, Hartley makes a deal with Booth. If the art thief will help him break out of prison and clear his name by capturing the Bishop, the FBI man will let Booth go. There's an added incentive for Booth: since he's now incarcerated, the Bishop has taken the mantle of "world's greatest art thief." If he can help get the Bishop sent down the river, Booth will reclaim his fancy "world's greatest" title. And thus an uneasy alliance is formed, which means we get to spend about an hour and a half watching Ryan Reynolds and Dwyane Johnson bicker and riff and utter lines of dialogue that have the cadence of humor, but aren't actually funny. A repetitiveness also sets in: one character will double-cross another and flee the scene, only to have the double-crossed individual show up later unexpectedly, a "joke" at the ready. This happens approximately five times in the movie, maybe more.

Now. Can we talk about Ryan Reynolds? Look, Mr. Reynolds seems like a really nice fellow. And I don't think he's untalented. But his endless schtick is growing tiresome. Reynolds plays pretty much every part now as if he's still playing Deadpool. That means Reynolds is constantly winking at the camera and throwing out meta jokes as if he knows he's in a movie. He has moments here where he refers to characters as "background extras" and even mentions "plot twists." Having Deadpool be aware that he's in a movie makes sense (I guess). Having Reynold's character Nolan Booth, the world's greatest art thief, be aware that he's in a movie is another matter. It also robs "Red Notice" of anything approaching tension. There's not a single second where the dangerous situations the characters find themselves in feel dangerous. We know that nothing bad will befall our heroes because nothing here matters. Nothing here is real. The laws of physics and gravity will be easily defied if it means moving the movie forward by a few seconds.

Even the locations look fake. Whether or not "Red Notice" actually filmed on location in various countries is immaterial, because everything up on the screen has the distinct glossy sheen of digital manipulation. What the hell is the point of a globe-trotting adventure when it looks like the actors never left a green screen-covered backlot in Atlanta, Georgia? The story moves from one exotic location to the next, but there's absolutely zero sense of place, or culture, or time. Everyone simply stands around with some familiar landmarks in the background. You could perform a Zoom call with a fake Eiffel Tower backdrop and achieve practically the same effect. 

As for Johnson and Gadot, they're fine, I guess? Johnson is an incredibly charismatic guy, but his character here is a bit of a blank. Reynolds calls him a "well-dressed wall" at one point, and honestly that's the perfect description for his character. Johnson simply isn't cut out for the buddy comedy routine. He floundered in "Hobbs and Shaw" primarily because the script required him and his co-star, Jason Statham, to both be the "funny guy." The key to a good buddy team-up is to have the two characters be mismatched in some way, and "Hobbs" made the mistake of trying to make both of its leads quip machines. "Red Notice" wisely avoids this by making Johnson the straight man to Reynolds' schtick. The problem is: there's an art to being a straight man, and Johnson doesn't seem to understand it. A good straight man grounds the comedian's humor and, in effect, helps make it even funnier. Here, Johnson merely stands around rolling his eyes, waiting to get a word in while Reynolds fires off exhausting bon mots. Then there's Gadot, who isn't in the film as much as you might think. It's fair to say Gadot doesn't have a lot of range and some of her performances (I'm looking at you, "Wonder Woman 1984") are downright bad. But she has that gorgeous movie star quality about her that helps carry her along. Ultimately, her character is as dull as a butter knife and amounts to little more than being "The Hot Lady Who Kicks People."

We Should Expect More, Even From Mindless Entertainment Like This

After a bunch of running around and action scenes rendered in the prerequisite orange and teal color filter, "Red Notice" shifts gears to include secret Nazi bunkers and lost rooms so choked with artifacts they would give Indiana Jones a boner. Here, Johnson and Reynolds dress up in a lot of khaki, complete with ubiquitous straps and pouches, and you get the sense that the film wants to now appeal to those who loved the "Uncharted" games, or the Brendan Fraser "Mummy" movie, or, of course, all-things "Indiana Jones." But the set design looks just like that: design. We don't buy for a second that the characters are somewhere real. They might as well be on the set of "Legends of the Hidden Temple." All this begs the question: why the hell did this cost so much money? I suppose the bulk of the cash went to the three big stars leading the film, but it would've been nice if they had set some aside to spend on everything else. 

I don't want to give you the impression that "Red Notice" is some abomination. It's not. It's an utterly harmless movie, and I'm sure the Netflix viewer who likes to throw something on while they spend the entire runtime scrolling through their phone will be fine with what's on display here. There's a loud explosion every few minutes that will have people glance up from their phone long enough to see the three attractive stars mug for the camera. And then the viewer can go back to looking at TikTok. 

So, yes, there are worse movies than this, and there's an occasional spot of fun here and there. Chris Diamantopoulos, as the film's rather ho-hum villain, is having a blast using an utterly goofy voice, and you get the impression that he's the only actor here who knows how stupid this all is, and running with it. And I will admit there's a "Jurassic Park" joke that made me laugh. But just because "Red Notice" isn't atrocious doesn't mean we should let it off the hook. Netflix loves to burn money, and they love to draw in exciting filmmakers and actors to create original projects. That's commendable. But it would be nice if they started being a bit more discerning. Rather than worry about the quantity of their content, why not spend more time on the quality? And while "Red Notice" may not be unwatchable, by the time the film ends with a deliberate sequel set-up, I was so turned off by the mercenary nature of it all that I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Whenever Netflix gets around to "Red Notice 2," it would behoove them to spend some of those boffo budget bucks on something better than this. 

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10