Film Review: “Red Notice”

Neither remarkable nor terrible, “Red Notice” is a typical action-comedy buoyed by its charismatic talent.

“Red Notice,” Netflix’s newest action-comedy from writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, has three things going for it: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and a $200 million budget. On paper, the film sounds like a surefire success — but then again, so did “Cats.” Luckily for fans of the leading actors and the action-comedy genre in general, “Red Notice” is no “Cats.” It’s not reaching the astronomical streaming numbers of “Squid Game” or creating much of a buzz on social media, but it’s not a horrific mess either. Fans of Johnson and Reynolds will be sure to enjoy “Red Notice,” if only to get their fix of both actors in between installments of their more well-known franchises.

Johnson plays John Hartley, an intelligent FBI profiler who locks up famed art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) only to end up framed for the same crime and thrown in a prison cell with Booth. It turns out both of them have been played by the Bishop (Gal Gadot), a femme fatale art thief bent on stealing all three of Cleopatra’s mythic golden eggs to sell on the black market. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game leads the characters to exotic locales like Bali, Rome, and Argentina, though these backdrops are not explored by the characters or even shown much on-screen beyond title cards announcing the location. Like the premise of rival thieves chasing after a ‘MacGuffin,’ the international settings featured in the film are just another box checked off of the generic-action-film BINGO card.

While the plot — reluctant partners teaming up to take down a common enemy — is nothing new, the chemistry and charisma of the film’s leading men make the tired setup feel fresh. In a particularly amusing scene, Reynolds loudly outs Johnson as a member of law enforcement in the middle of a Russian prison cafeteria, much to Johnson’s chagrin. After the two make a daring escape from prison, they’re grateful for a change of clothes — until Johnson finds out that all there is for him to wear is a sparkly sweater that says “Gotta Dance.” These and other moments where the two stars playfully antagonize each other are among the film’s more entertaining moments. Perhaps this should come as no surprise given Johnson’s past success playing the ‘straight man’ to an off-the-cuff partner.

The same cannot be said of the scenes they share with Gadot, who delivers a performance almost as wooden as her acting in the ill-received “Wonder Woman: 1984.” Most of Gadot’s time on screen is spent kicking, tripping, and otherwise incapacitating the men of “Red Notice” to get what she wants. Her character is able to outwit Hartley and Booth with minimal effort, whether intercepting a phone call from an INTERPOL Inspector or pretending to be the warden of the gulag they’re locked up in. As fun as it is to watch a female antagonist go toe-to-toe against two action heroes, overall, her character suffers from a lack of development beyond being able to fight. Booth and Hartley both have backstories about how their fathers led them into their respective career paths. The most we learn of Gadot’s “Bishop” comes from a twist revealed in the final minutes of the film, and even that fails to give any real insight into her motivations. If anything, Gadot’s character is less developed than Inspector Das, a minor character played by “Umbrella Academy” alum Ritu Arya.

Gadot’s performance aside, “Red Notice” is a passable film. Does it have complex characters? No. A compelling, original story? Not quite. Spectacular visuals? There are some decent shots, but nothing audiences haven’t seen before — and that’s fine. No one is watching “Red Notice” for the commentary on the human condition, the incredible plot, or the mind-blowing cinematography. They’re watching “Red Notice” to see their favorite actors play action-hero versions of themselves while delivering a few exhale-worthy jokes. Go in with that mindset, and you won’t be disappointed.

Grade: B-
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot
Release Date: November 5, 2021 (Theatrical)
Rating: PG-13