“It doesn’t matter what you do; what only matters is what they think you’ve done.”
When Netflix announced its slate of upcoming original releases for 2021, one project in particular caught a lot of attention. Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot were revealed to be on location making a brand new heist movie called Red Notice, exclusively for Netflix. With the world’s largest streaming site hiring three of Hollywood’s biggest and most bankable stars to appear together for the first time, expectations were high for the piece. Could Red Notice live up to that expectation?
The central plot of Red Notice is constructed around the race to find three ornate eggs, given to Cleopatra by Marcus Antonius as a wedding gift. Two were found by a farmer in 1907, with the third still lost to history. Special Agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) of the FBI is assigned to assist Interpol officer Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) in stopping the theft of one of the eggs in Rome, after an international art thief known only as The Bishop (Gal Gadot) tipped him off that fellow art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) was planning a heist, part of an attempt to find all three eggs and deliver them to a billionaire buyer. Naturally, shenanigans ensue from here; with Booth and The Bishop chasing the eggs, while Hartley & Das attempt to foil them both… or so it seems.
On the surface, Red Notice seems like a film that can’t really fail. Three incredibly charismatic actors with a penchant for action, coming together to both work with each other and compete against each other in a transcontinental heist movie seems like a no brainer for a good time; and yet, Red Notice drops the ball by trying to be far too much movie for its own good, and bloats itself to a degree that it becomes almost tiring to watch towards the end. For starters, this film has more twists than the Monaco Grand Prix; with so many double-crosses going on that the viewer would need a degree in mathematics to keep up with the duplicitous nature of the central cast. This is barely a spoiler, it’s alluded to heavily in the trailer and it’s certainly not a bad device for a film with a story like this. There does, however, come a point when the next twist starts to make earlier segments in the film feel disingenuous; asking the audience to believe scenarios that go beyond the realm of human beings playing tricks on each other, and asking us to reassess these characters as the greatest character actors on the planet, to be able to so convincingly bamboozle each other in the way that they do, which becomes more difficult as the narrative moves forward.
This is not to discredit the effort of the central cast; as our three leads demonstrate exactly the performances that we would expect from them in this piece. There’s no doubt in my mind that the script for Red Notice had these three in mind when it was written; Johnson was a principal producer on the piece so was guaranteed to be a part of it. Their lines are tailored to their performance style; with Johnson getting the stoic, serious yet flirty side of the script; Gadot bouncing from sensual to threatening, and Reynolds filling his standard goofball role, with plenty of puns and elaborate insults to his castmates. If you enjoy these three actors then you’ll have no problem with their performances, as they deliver exactly what you would expect from them; but if you dislike any of them, be aware that this film is absolutely built around their personalities and that may start to grate on you over time – I’m lucky to enjoy Reynolds brand of performance and humour (I even enjoyed Blade: Trinity), but this one may be a stretch for you if you’re not into these performers.
One actor who didn’t get enough time on screen to really demonstrate what she can do is Ritu Arya. Urvashi Das chases these thieves across the world, consistently showing up to try and catch them in the act; but Arya doesn’t really get a lot of screen time or dialogue beyond a demonstration that she’s in the room when the central actors are engaging in whatever shenanigans are required for that scene. This is a shame, as Arya has been consistently demonstrating that she has above average ability and comedic timing in her other projects over the last few years, and she could have been utilised a lot more here to break up the continuous interactions between Johnson, Gadot and Reynolds in a refreshing fashion; which could have benefitted the film overall.
Outside of the performances, the action of Red Notice is slick; a globetrotting experience takes the cast across Europe and into South America in search of the eggs, and the action sequences do well to lean on the cast’s strengths at every point, much like the script does. One sequence during the opening scene, featuring Reynolds seeing off Italian guards on a set of scaffolding, does a lot of excellent work to establish Booth’s style as a character, but also allows Reynolds to engage in some physical comedy work beyond implied clumsiness, which is refreshing. However this also ties into the primary disappointment of Red Notice; in that it wants to be too many films. There are scenes which could be seen to pay tribute to the likes of the Ocean’s series, the Indiana Jones series, to Bond and to Mission Impossible; but these film series are not all the same in their nature, and the result is that the narrative of Red Notice doesn’t really seem to know what it actually wants to be, especially when combined with the aforementioned twists. There’s no harm in allowing previous works to influence your film; but when the narrative is moving from a careful, methodical, high-tech heist in a millionaire’s Spanish mansion to a rugged trip to the jungles of Argentina in the search for a Nazi vault; it’s possible that your story has lost its focus a little and is relying too much on those predecessors for its content.
On the surface, Red Notice is a flashy, exciting heist film with a charismatic and dynamic central cast; but the desire to pack in as much as possible into the runtime creates a convoluted, over-written plot that relies too heavily on the tricks and locations of better films for its narrative, rather than allowing itself to be built around the talents of its impressive talent. At its highest points it is an enjoyable crime romp, but at its lowest it’s nothing more than fine; and the lower points seem all the more prevalent as the runtime counts down. If you have Netflix at home then it’s alright to kill an evening with nothing else going on; but don’t waste your money trying to find it in a cinema; it doesn’t deserve the extra effort.
Dave McGuckin is a theatre graduate, bar manager, former comedian and eternal film lover from Northern Ireland, now living in Canada. He began writing film reviews in 2016 for The Grade and then Great Central, both based in Leicester, England.
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