REVIEW: “Red Notice” (2021)

(CLICK HERE to read my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

With over 50 Academy Award nominations (including five for Best Picture)and a total of 15 Oscar wins, it goes without saying that Netflix has become a major player in the world of movies. But in addition to awards season features, Netflix has also poured millions of dollars into developing their own line of big-budgeted blockbusters. The new poster child for that initiative is “Red Notice”, a $200 million action comedy featuring three of the biggest names in Hollywood entertainment.

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, “Red Notice” stars Dwayne Johnson, the highest paid actor in Hollywood, Gal Gadot, one of the highest paid women in Hollywood, and Ryan Reynolds, a likable schtick-driven actor with an enthusiastic following of his own. That’s a lot of box office star power and also a sizable investment in itself.

Just based on the talent alone, you have a good idea of what you’re going to get from “Red Notice” – plenty of action scenes, just as many laughs, lots of charisma, and an open door for a sequel if this one proves profitable. In other words your standard blockbuster blueprint. But I don’t mean that as a knock. I’ve always had an affection for popcorn movies when they’re done well. Even when they stick close to the familiar formula.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

To the movie’s credit, “Red Notice” knows exactly the kind of movie it wants to be, and it sticks to that vision which proves to be both a strength and weakness. Thurber and company stay with what works and have a great time doing it. And you never have to worry about the movie taking itself seriously. At the same time, the relentless gags and overall silliness can get a little exhausting. And those looking for even the smallest amount of dramatic tension won’t find it here.

This fun smorgasbord of genres goes as heavy into comedy as it does action. But it also throws in some heist thriller elements and a bit of swashbuckling adventure. Johnson gets top billing playing FBI beefcake John Hartley, a seasoned profiler with the Bureau who specializes in art crime. The film opens as Hartley and Inspector Das (Ritu Arya) from Interpol arrive at Rome’s renowned Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo. Inside the museum is one of three bejeweled eggs given to Cleopatra from Mark Antony. The second egg is in a private collection in Spain and the location of the third remains a mystery.

So why is all this egg talk important? An Egyptian billionaire is offering $300 million to whoever delivers him all three eggs by his daughter’s wedding day. Hartley is in Rome after receiving a tip that renowned con artist Nolan Booth (Reynolds) is in town to swipe egg number one. But there’s a third player who factors into the equation – the sphinxlike “most wanted art thief in the world” (Gadot) who watches from afar with a ton of resources at her disposal.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

This fast-moving caper launches with a wild chase sequence in Rome where Booth and the egg slips through Hartley’s fingers. There’s a brief stop in Bali where Hartley tracks down and apprehends Booth. Then its back to Rome where Hartley discovers the egg he has retrieved is fake and he has in fact been framed for the theft by a mysterious shadowy character known as Bishop. Hartley and Booth get shipped to a frigid Siberian prison (don’t ask) where they learn the true identity of Bishop (Gadot).

It may sound like I’m spoiling a lot of the plot but I’m really not. All of that is mostly setup for this around-the-world jaunt that also makes stops in London, Egypt, and Argentina among other scenic locales. Along the way, Thurber puts together a number of high-energy set pieces including a crazy prison escape, a gag-filled fight sequence in Valencia, and a wild car chase through a mineshaft. Not every action scene works (there’s an especially dumb sequence inside a Spanish bullring), but most are entertaining and clearly a huge chunk of the budget went into them.

As for the three stars, each deliver exactly what you expect from them. The magnetic Johnson flexes his big biceps and his bigger personality. The playfully seductive Gadot seems to be having a blast. And the quick-witted Reynolds plays straight to type, with a joke-a-second cadence that offers up plenty of laughs while testing your endurance. Together the trio have good chemistry, riffing on a number of well-worn action movie tropes and checking all the boxes most of us look for in our breezy popcorn escapism. “Red Notice” is out today in select theaters and premieres on Netflix November 12th.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Red Notice” (2021)

  1. Just caught this the other night. I couldn’t believe how lazy and cheap it felt. The end scene with Ed Sheeran was actually quite unbelievable, and not in a good way.

    How a filmmaker manages to use $200 million like this, astounds me. Dune apparently cost less money than Red Notice. I’m still trying to process that.

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