What’s new, everyone? In the Netflix action-adventure heist movie Red Notice—which is apparently Netflix’s priciest and most-viewed original project to date with a $200 million budget and over 150 million views as of this writing—Interpol is issuing Red Notices, high-level warrants for the arrest of the most wanted criminals all over the globe. Crack FBI criminal profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) has been assigned to pursue one such Red Notice, which was put out for master art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). However, a different art thief strides in to shake things up: The Bishop (Gal Gadot), who frames Hartley for robbery and is on a mission to purloin a trio of bejeweled eggs that Mark Antony gave Cleopatra as a wedding gift. This forces Hartley and Booth to embark on an international caper as an odd-couple pairing to bust the Bishop, clear Hartley’s name, and recoup Booth’s reputation as the world’s most-wanted art thief.
Having begun streaming on November 12 with a limited theatrical release a week earlier on November 5, Red Notice has wildly contrasting scores on Rotten Tomatoes: 35% for critics and 92% for audiences. Honestly, I think that’s an apt result for this type of popcorn flick, which is grounded on a script by writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber that slickly hits all the traditional beats of a heist blockbuster without making much of an effort to infuse the narrative with a dose of imagination. The star power is what drives Red Notice and boosts its RT audience score. You’ve got The Rock bringing his superhuman muscles and charisma, Reynolds entertaining us with his oodles of smart-aleck quips (the one about Vin Diesel is particularly uproarious), and Gadot hamming it up as an enjoyably mustache-twirling art thief with the backup assets of a femme fatale and a hacker. Yes, I’ve heard opinions from various viewers that deem the performances of all three stars as being flat, but I personally found them to be a blast to watch, especially the flippant Reynolds. Without diving into spoilers, though, I did have problems with the thinly written nature of the characters, the nonexistence of any heat between Gadot and Johnson in spite of the movie’s attempt at turning them into a diluted and gender-flipped Out of Sight, and the incredibly contrived point that their arcs reach in the denouement. As for the countless pop culture winks, some of them brought a smile to my face, but the rest were embarrassingly lazy.
Returning to the elements with which I took issue, the movie’s adoration of green screen is blatantly apparent. Granted, much of it had to be filmed in Georgia due to COVID, though the crew was able to shoot in Rome and Sardinia for a week in mid-November 2020. But even then, the $200 million that was devoted to this should have been enough to keep the CGI top-notch and stop me from repeatedly realizing that the actors are obviously working on a soundstage. It makes you cherish the typically convincing VFX that fills the MCU and the real-world settings that superior movies like Nomadland and Tenet utilize.
Now, let’s take a minute to cover the director, because this isn’t the first time that Johnson has starred in one of Thurber’s flicks. He actually started out in comedy as writer-director of 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and director of the 2013 Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston comedy We’re the Millers. He followed this up with the 2016 action-comedy Central Intelligence, which became the first collaboration between Johnson and Thurber. Their second collaboration was Skyscraper, the 2018 cross between Die Hard and The Towering Inferno. Then there’s Red Notice, which is reportedly spawning two more sequels that will be shot back-to-back (please, please don’t tell me they’re going to be Part 1 and Part 2 of a single narrative à la Reloaded/Revolutions for The Matrix and Dead Man’s Chest/At World’s End for Pirates of the Caribbean). Thurber has quite a bit on his plate, considering he’s also going to helm a Jake Gyllenhaal- and Jessica Chastain-starring movie adaptation of the Ubisoft video game series The Division. His transition from comedy to action seems to be shaping him into the kind of big-budget director who can reap tons of cash with firmly mediocre projects, but he isn’t someone from whom I’ll ever expect a popcorn movie with the stunningly taut writing of Edge of Tomorrow.
But hey, Netflix—which purchased the distribution rights for Red Notice from Universal Studios—obviously doesn’t care about that, what with the 150 million streams. Keep in mind, those streams are unlike the box office in that they don’t translate directly into money, making it challenging to determine how well the content actually performed. I suspect the massive leads would have drawn plenty of viewers if Red Notice had been theatrically released in non-COVID times. In the end, it’s a watchable flick that you can throw on while folding laundry, but don’t expect it to be nearly as fun or memorable as Ocean’s 11 or National Treasure.
Make sure you tune into the 2 Cents Critic podcast for its newest episode on Red Notice. Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 55/100