It seems the Mecca of dumb quippy action movies has arrived. RED NOTICE, a recent arrival on Netflix, is an expensive and overblown spy thriller starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. Supposedly it boasts the largest budget of any Netflix movie thus far. This is impressive, but it appears that much of the money went into collecting the A-list stars and planting them in elaborate sets with CGI backgrounds. The plot almost never makes sense for more than a couple minutes, and almost every scene is over-the-top to the point of absolute absurdity. And yet, because of Reynolds and Johnsons’ charisma, the movie is constantly entertaining and engaging. RED NOTICE knows what it wants to be and never aspires to be too much more, which seems to call back to old Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Does this make the movie good? Not really — but I can see RED NOTICE , and many of Johnson’s other movies, seen in the same light as Stallone and Schwarzenegger films in the near future.
The plot of RED NOTICE isn’t anything new or exciting — it comes across as a typical globe-trotting spy thriller at best. Ryan Reynolds plays Nolan Booth, an art thief who self-identifies as the best in the world at his craft. However, FBI Special Agent John Hartley, played by Dwayne Johnson, is hot on his tail and knows where Booth is headed next. Both are on the hunt for three expensive and beautiful eggs that were supposedly a token of appreciation gifted from Marc Antony to Cleopatra back in Ancient Egypt. The variable that thwarts them both throughout their pursuit is The Bishop (Gal Gadot), a mysterious kingpin who manipulates the world of art theft to her own benefit. In order to outplay The Bishop, they must team up to find the three eggs before she does while trying to chase their own ulterior motives.
One trait that a spy movie needs to have in order to succeed is the smarts to outwit its own audience. If any movie has characters that constantly double-cross each other, then the movie needs to trick the viewers into believing these same tricks. Unfortunately, RED NOTICE director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber seems to think his script is far smarter than it actually is, making the twists and turns of this movie feel laughable instead of shocking. On a dramatic level it doesn’t quite land either, because although the two main male characters are given some solid backstories, the constant twists render these stories pointless because certain motivations are tweaked as the movie progresses.
So if RED NOTICE doesn’t quite work as an espionage thriller and a dramatic character piece, then how exactly does it work? Well, it’s a ridiculously overblown action movie with Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson in which they banter and throw insults at each other for damn near the entire runtime. I’d argue that the movie doesn’t need to be much more than that. Reynolds is his typical scene-stealing, hilariously entertaining self, and the movie would be a complete failure if it weren’t for his presence here. While Dwayne Johnson gives a fun performance as well, Reynolds elevates the quality of each passing scene just by making stupid comments, and this alone, along with the fantastic chemistry between the two actors, is reason to check this movie out on Netflix.
The rest of this film is generic and forgettable fluff, and despite the two charismatic lead actors, I cannot see myself looking back fondly on RED NOTICE in the future. Every other character besides the main couple ultimately falls flat, which includes Gal Gadot as The Bishop. This character seems like it was designed to give Gadot a chance to become a prolific deliverer of killer one-liners, yet she never steps up to the task, delivering another mediocre performance that makes me wonder why Gadot keeps landing such coveted roles. The CGI is also astonishingly inept given the enormous budget of this production — roughly 200 million dollars that must have been spent to pay the A-lister stars on the poster. The film is jam-packed with big-budget action sequences, all of which look as if they were filmed in a green-screen studio in Los Angeles rather than an actual location. To me, this shows the amount of effort that was injected into this film: enough to let the major stars shine but not enough to make a quality movie worth remembering.
Many critics are treating RED NOTICE as if it is an existential crisis for the state of filmmaking, and that the quality of movies will forever deteriorate because of this formulaic Netflix hit. I think they’re overselling the issue, because RED NOTICE to me seems like a harmless and reasonably entertaining action thriller that knows its audience won’t be looking for The Godfather: Part IV. Sure, it’s a formulaic and conceptually average film that never delivers anything that isn’t just a carbon copy of one of the four Indiana Jones movies. This, to me, is not a complete condemnation, although it does stop the movie from being one I would ever pay money for (some movies deserve to be on Netflix). Ryan Reynolds and The Rock fans will rejoice regardless of the quality, and I must admit that on that level, RED NOTICE is a success more than it is a failure.