Red Notice Understands the Assignment but Doesn’t Earn Any Extra Credit

While the movie has some flaws, fans will enjoy Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot in this globe-trotting action-adventure comedy thriller.

There’s nothing really “wrong” with Red Notice, Netflix’s over-the-top adventure slash art heist slash globe-trotting action movie starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot, but it does raise some questions. Who is this for, exactly, and how much more likable would this be in a solely theatrical release?

With the former, it’s reasonable to believe this blockbuster, packed with big explosions and fight scenes, is perfect fare for families and kids; this is a film that doesn’t ask you to think too much or even push back on its use of worn tropes. And you have to wonder while watching Red Notice’s death-defying action scenes (you know the type: running towards a helicopter about to take off, dodging the big ball of fire with a second to spare) would be more appealing, or at least less expected, on a massive screen rather than at home. Whatever the case, Red Notice isn’t unenjoyable, just sort of standard; not bad, not great, perfectly fine. And at times fun and funny.

The story, leaning on our penchant for established exotic-action flicks like The Mummy, Mission Impossible, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Wonder Woman, revolves around an art heist and a mystery: Who in the world has stolen Cleopatra’s precious eggs, given to her by her beloved Antony?

At the outset, the famed FBI profiler John Hartley (Johnson) is brought in to, um, crack the case. But he’s quickly foiled by the dashing and goofy art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds), who is both a savvy criminal and an expert at quippy one-liners that at times will get the audience to chuckle.

Yet the “good guy” and “bad guy” both soon find themselves in an unlikely alliance after they’ve been outwitted by “The Bishop” (Gadot). She is also an art thief. She uses feminine mystique, seduction, wits, and martial arts expertise to keep this odd couple one step behind her and out of reach of those coveted eggs.

Fairly boilerplate spy thriller/sexy art thief drama ensues. They seemingly go to some of the world’s most alluring cities, like Rome, London, Argentina, Bali blowing things up, crashing through glass, and punching people in an expensive game of cat and mouse.

There’s even a literal tango between Hartley and The Bishop, meant to exemplify the sensual tension at play as he pursues her and she outmaneuvers him. Yet the story, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, doesn’t really do anything new with these relied-upon cues and influences as mentioned above; they’re simply stirred together to make something sort of new, super palpable, and comfortably familiar.

All the key players are, in effect, leveraging what got them here, Reynolds doing a variation of his wise-Alek schtick from Deadpool, Gadot doing her action bae thing from Wonder Woman, Johnson doing every other action film he’s been in.

Even the red herrings and double-crosses and twists come on cue, but they do keep us invested.  In a lot of ways, Red Notice is what “understanding the assignment” looks like: it does exactly what a big-budget blockbuster is supposed to, even if it doesn’t make any real attempt at thoughtful extra credit.

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