A Heist Film That Will Steal No One’s Heart

While shooting Red Notice, Dwayne Johnson hyped the film on his Instagram account by calling it “the largest investment Netflix has made thus far in a film.” True to his word, the finished product looks like it cost a fortune, with Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot — three A-list stars who command A-list salaries — hopping around the globe as they search for a trio of ancient artifacts amidst an endless series of elaborate action sequences. There are foot chases, prison escapes, and jeep pursuits through surprisingly long underground tunnels. If you want fist fights, helicopters, gunplay, and explosions, Red Notice delivers all of that stuff as well.

Sadly, though, Red Notice also provides extensive evidence that in movies, as in life, there are some things that money can’t buy — in this case, a funny script or compelling reasons to care about the misadventures of three bland and sometimes downright irritating characters. Until today, I’m not sure I would have believed a movie with this much theoretical “excitement” could be so boring.

Red Notice’s title refers to INTERPOL’s “highest level of arrest warrant,” according to a caption during the opening credits. As the film begins, one’s been issued for master art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds), who’s being pursued by an FBI profiler named John Hartley (Johnson). He’s all that stands between Booth and three priceless golden eggs that supposedly belonged to Cleopatra. But another master criminal nicknamed “The Bishop” (Gadot) wants the eggs too, and she’s even more resourceful and cunning than Booth.

Every good heist film needs at least a couple of items from the genre’s common tropes: Interesting characters with strong motivations; an impossible-to-acquire target that adds drama to the robbery; elaborate gadgets that make the impossible theft possible; a complex plan that audiences can follow as it either succeeds or fails; and a fun vibe of camaraderie that endears the crooks to the viewer. Red Notice has basically none of the above. The leads are all incredibly attractive and look fabulous in their fashionable costumes. They also barely seem to care about what they are chasing, or each other. It’s all just a lark — and hey, if you’re in the mood for a movie with zero stakes where nothing matters and nobody onscreen is invested in what they’re doing, maybe this will float your boat. Personally, I prefer when it feels like there’s at least something on the line.

Back in his wrestling days, Johnson used to call himself “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.” At the time, he absolutely was. Johnson’s provided a similarly energizing presence in stuff like Fast Five or The Rundown or Moana. In Red Notice, that spark is missing. There’s no zing on his zingers, and not even much pep in his step during the numerous action scenes. He’s so distant he can barely muster the energy to look intrigued when tangoing with a scantily clad Gal Gadot.

Reynolds seems a little more engaged as he returns to his usual incessant joke-cracking schtick. In a meta movie like Deadpool, where all of the comedy is built on making fun of superhero tropes, that fits. In something a little more strait-laced like Red Notice, it deflates what little tension exists in the story. Also, not to, like, actually pay attention to the movie, but in some scenes Reynolds’ character can fend off prison guards with martial arts and escape from heavily fortified art museums using parkour, and in other scenes he’s a bumbling boob who stumbles all over the place as Gal Gadot beats the crap out of him. Is this guy a world-class fighter or a klutz? He seems to be both, depending on the needs of any particular scene.

As for Gadot, she is painfully miscast as Nolan and Hartley’s smirking, above-it-all adversary. Gadot’s best roles takes advantage of her innate likability; her earnest, heartfelt enthusiasm and her radiant smile. She’s all wrong for the cynical, sardonic Bishop. Like Johnson, she’s looks like she’s just going through the motions.

The writer/director of Red Notice, Rawson Marshall Thurber, made good use of Dwayne Johnson’s offbeat sense of humor in their first film together, Central Intelligence, which cast The Rock as a former nerd and oddball who got into incredible physical shape but still harbored a lot of eccentric tendencies. Central Intelligence was a really good comedy and a so-so action movie. So naturally they followed it with Skyscraper, a less jokey disaster movie with Johnson playing a devoted family man who rescues his wife and kids from a recycled Die Hard plot.

Now they’ve made Red Notice together, which sort of splits the difference between the two earlier films. It’s more outwardly a comedy, thanks to Reynolds’ constant yakking, but there are so many setpieces they overcrowd the movie, and Thurber’s visual direction still leaves a lot to be desired. (Johnson and Reynolds’ wind up running for their lives through a Spanish bullfight and it does not appear, based on the pervasive and unconvincing green screen shots, that the production ever shot in Spain, or in a bullring, or within the same continent of a real bull.)

On some level, there is something intrinsically appealing about watching beautiful people travel the world, especially since on Netflix you get to see all those beautiful sights without ever leaving the comfort of your couch. It would be nice, though, if there was something more to Red Notice than that; memorable dialogue, an awe-inspiring stunt or two, a particularly sexy scene between any of the gorgeous people in the cast — anything, really, beyond the bare minimum of entertainment that it provides. This may have been Netflix’s largest investment in a movie ever, but in the end, it’s the viewer who gets what they paid for.

RATING: 3/10

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