Red Notice

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Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds in Red Notice.
Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds in Red Notice.
Photo: Frank Masi/Netflix


Red Notice




2.5/5 Stars


After top FBI profiler, John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) chases down and arrests infamous art thief, Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), when the latter tries to steal one of three priceless golden eggs, Hartley soon finds himself sharing a jail cell in a Russian prison with Booth when he is framed by the world's most wanted art thief, "The Bishop" (Gal Gadot), for stealing that very treasure from under Interpol's noses. The two have no choice but to escape the prison and hunt down "The Bishop" together.


Netflix has pulled out the biggest guns imaginable for their most expensive film to date by cramming three of the most popular, most profitable and most flat out likeable stars working in Hollywood today into one slick slice of crowd-pleasing entertainment. And, indeed, it's hard to argue with something that teams up Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, certainly not in a project written and directed by as sure a hand as Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, Central Intelligence). And, unsurprisingly, it's been a huge hit for the streaming service.

With this much charm and charisma in the front of the camera and this much solid, if unspectacular, experience behind it, there was surely no way that Red Notice wouldn't be, if not exactly a masterpiece, then at least assure a guaranteed couple of hours of fun as you could hope to find. The problem, though, is that Thurber clearly thinks as highly of his stars as the rest of us do, so he has clearly put as little effort as possible into actually crafting proper jokes or coming up with a storyline that isn't just a stale retread of a dozen other, better movies.

There's a definite sense throughout that Thurber just threw out a vague outline of a story made up of bits he liked from classics like the Indiana Jones series and Romancing the Stone and then just pointed his camera at the film's three incredibly attractive, charismatic stars and told them to just sort of do their thing. Well, he certainly did with Johnson (or DJ as his co-stars have charmingly taken to calling him) – Gadot isn't exactly playing Wonder Woman here, but she's still basically asked to look beautiful and kick-ass, just in a way that's naughty rather than nice. A major stretch, it ain't.

And if you've seen the three of them in any of the many countless interviews they did for the film, both separately and together, it's hard to really blame Thurber for relying so heavily on his stars. And, certainly, though Johnson and Reynolds are strictly on autopilot throughout, they are a fun pairing, but it says something that they only really come alive when interacting with their gorgeous co-star, which happens, honestly, a lot less than I'd like. Not just for the obvious reasons, but because Gadot is clearly having a blast playing a baddie for a change, and her energy is undeniably infectious.  

What this means, though, is that Red Notice is undeniably entertaining, even with its very overstretched running time. What it doesn't mean, however, is that it's much more entertaining than watching the three of them interact in interviews. Indeed, I would dare argue that it's significantly less fun than that. In an interview, there are no perfunctory action scenes or an even more perfunctory (not to mention blindingly stupid) story to get in the way, and we get to see the three of them playing off each other with more consistency and more laughs than they do in the film. Promotional interviews are normally there to get people to see the film, but in this case, it's more that the film is just an excuse to watch them in interviews.

Arguably the biggest failing of Red Notice, though, has nothing whatsoever to do with the film and absolutely everything to do with how it's being distributed. In short, by releasing it exclusively on Netflix and not in cinemas (at least in this country), what we have here is a crowd-pleaser without a crowd.

There are two big reasons to watch films on the big screen. One, as can be seen readily in recent blockbusters like Dune and Eternals, is to make the most of stunning visuals and immersion audio. Two, the experience of watching something with a good (emphasis on good) audience can improve the experience a hundredfold. Red Notice is an attractive film, sure, but it's the second reason that's most pertinent here: like most comedies and most popcorn movies, it is absolutely begging to be seen with a lively (though still well-behaved) audience. Watching it on your own at home makes it, at most, half the movie it would be watching it with a bunch of people in a cinema.

It may be a huge hit on Netflix, but the company have cut the legs off their own film by keeping it to themselves. If nothing else, it proves, once again, just why we need cinemas as much as ever before.


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