2.5 out of 5 stars

Netflix-produced movies usually hire major Hollywood talent for minor results, and that’s doubly true of the movies they merely acquire the distribution rights to. Red Notice was set to be released by Universal Pictures into cinemas, so you almost know it’s going to be average (at best) once Netflix swoop in to stream it instead. You think Universal are happy to wave goodbye to the small fortune they’d have made with this? No, they likely realised it was best to cut their losses and just guarantee some sort of return on their investment through Netflix. Red Notice did receive a week-long theatrical run (where it grossed a reported $1.5M), and even allowing for savvy audience knowing to wait for Netflix’s release that’s a disastrously low sum.

Red Notice cost $200M to make – about the same as a major Marvel superhero film — although it’s been confirmed that Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman 1984) got paid $20M each for this, so presumably Ryan Reynolds’ asking price was on par with his co-stars, so a huge $60M was set aside just for casting the leads! The project is entirely marketed around the appeal of seeing this trio together, so who said the age of the movie star is dead?

Dwayne Johnson reunites with his Central Intelligence (2016) and Skyscraper (2018) director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, for a vaguely Hobbs & Shaw (2019)-style buddy action film, now partnered with wise-ass Ryan Reynolds (Free Guy). Johnson’s playing FBI criminal profiler John Hartley (stop sniggering), who’s out to catch international art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds). Booth’s latest target is the missing bejewelled egg Marc Anthony gifted to Cleopatra two thousand years ago, which is also being sought by his enigmatic female rival “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot). It’s a cop-and-thieves triangle that eventually leads to The Bishop getting the better of the two men, having them thrown into a tough Russian prison in the mountains, where they’re forced to become a team in order to escape and stop The Bishop from finding the last egg.

To be fair, this feels more like a genuine movie than most of Netflix’s offerings. It’s jaw-dropping it cost this much, when it looks more like a $50M-budgeted movie at best, but at least the cash buys it some cinematic flavour at times, thanks to some genuine location shooting in Italy (if only for a few weeks, so it’s most greenscreen in Atlanta), and a smattering of action set-pieces that aren’t totally disinteresting. The prison escape sequence is an enjoyable highlight, and I almost wish the film had stayed there for longer and enhanced the acrimony between Hartley and Booth in a confined space as the only two American inmates.

The big problem is that everyone’s going through the motions — with the possible exception of Gal Gadot, who became a superstar from playing Wonder Woman almost exclusively for five years, so here she’s clearly enjoying getting to channel her beauty and physical skills into a more villainous performance. I’m not saying she proves she has incredible range, but seeing her be bad with a twinkle in her eyes has its appeal.

Contrastingly, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds again riff on their established “movie personas”, adding nothing new. For Johnson it’s more forgivable because he’s a charismatic action star who does what he does in movies of this ilk, much like a Schwarzenegger or Stallone of his era. Reynolds, on the other hand, seems to have forgotten how to play anyone except Deadpool—whose cynical, meta-humoured patter the Canadian actor has commandeered for himself. We’re stuck seeing different shades of his snarky shtick, which is becoming an agonising experience and a waste of Reynolds’ talent.

Overall, Red Notice benefits from feeling like a “genuine movie” and less of a high-end TV production with big star names, but it’s unfortunately a mediocre movie compounded by feeling small-scale on a TV screen at home. But at least you didn’t spend money especially for this underwhelming experience, and it does have some fun moments and amusing gags along the way. The prison escape’s the best sequence, but there’s some amusement when it starts to move away from being a heist movie and edges towards more Indiana Jones-style adventure in the Argentinian jungle. You just have to get through a lot of humdrum action-comedy guff and Chris Diamantopoulos seemingly basing his English accent on Dumbledore (the Richard Harris version) along the way.

USA | 2021 | 118 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writer & director: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya & Chris Diamantopoulos.