On paper, Red Notice is almost the textbook definition of what you want in a Hollywood blockbuster, ticking so many ideal boxes that if you weren’t aware the project was set up at Universal beforehand, you’d think the entire premise, script, casting and production process had been concocted by Netflix’s algorithm.
It’s a high concept, completely original pitch that comes packing no shortage of blatantly obvious franchise potential, bankrolled by one of the most powerful outfits in the industry to the tune of $200 million. Thrown in a trio of genuine box office draws and A-list megastars via Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, a breezy plot that takes place in a string of glamorous locations across the world, and everything about Red Notice is a slam dunk in theory.
However, in execution, it’s not even close to being the sum of its parts. Don’t get us wrong, Red Notice isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, it’s frequently a fast-paced and frantic delight. That being said, the sheer megawatt star power of the leads papers over the cracks in the narrative to a very noticeable degree, to the extent that it feels as though the banter is the only thing keeping it from collapsing into itself at points.
Writer and director Rawson Marshall Thurber got his start in comedy, following up Dodgeball with We’re the Millers and Central Intelligence, but he’s banking on being an action guy now, and there isn’t much evidence that it’s his strong suit. His last collaboration with Johnson in Skyscraper boasts many of the same glaring flaws as Red Notice; namely ropey CGI, an artificial sheen permeating the majority of the backdrops and set pieces that lean much harder into the workmanlike than the spectacular, and it’s a shame to report that things haven’t improved between the two blockbusters.
The plot, which is oxymoronically easy to follow but still somehow convoluted once the pieces start falling into place, kicks off in Rome. Johnson’s FBI profiler John Hartley is hot on the tail of Reynolds’ master thief Nolan Booth, before they both find themselves in the cross hairs of Gal Gadot’s Bishop. That’s pretty much the setup in a nutshell, but that’s more than enough.
The action sequences start and then they really don’t stop, so you’ll never be anything less than fitfully entertained. There’s a mountain of exposition to get through, though, and it comes in many forms; flashbacks, voiceovers, heart-to-hearts, visual aids, lengthy monologues and more. It’s a regular problem for Hollywood blockbusters to explain their lore in painful, often excruciating levels of detail, and Red Notice is no different in that regard.
Instead of focusing on a single, unified tone, Red Notice throws almost every imaginable subgenre of action cinema into the mix, and while several of the sojourns don’t really land, a great deal of them do. The cat and mouse thriller, glitzy heist caper, buddy cop comedy, femme fatale noir and archeological adventure are all present and accounted for, and somebody on the production team is definitely having a laugh when the third act throws Johnson into the jungle yet again, a location he can barely seem to keep away from.
Red Notice isn’t smart, nor is particularly sexy despite the notoriously chaste Johnson’s attempts to generate sparks with Gadot, but it can be a whole lot of fun. It comes perilously close to self-aware fourth wall-breaking at points, largely when Reynolds actively references Indiana Jones, MacGuffins and the like, but it’s the equivalent of a $200 million version of your favorite comfort food; you’ve had it a thousand times before, and you know exactly what’s coming from the beginning to the end, making it both completely expected and yet entirely welcome.
Speaking of entirely welcome, Johnson and Reynolds evidently had a blast shooting Red Notice. The pair bounce off each other wonderfully, and given that they both play the exact personas we’ve become accustomed to seeing from them, it adds another element of familiarity to Red Notice. Gadot has a blast as the scheming, nefarious figure manipulating everything around her, but even she threatens to get swallowed whole by the Ryan N’ Rock Show.
The fact that the only other figure in the entire movie worth mentioning outside of the main three is Ritu Arya’s Agent Das tells you all that you need to know about how much Red Notice cares for anything or anyone who exists outside of the Johnson/Reynolds/Gadot vacuum, and even then she only lives on the peripherals to tie the various plot threads together from almost the first minute to the last.
Red Notice moves fast, doesn’t stop to catch a breath and is always setting up the next scene, so you’re very unlikely to find yourself getting bored, especially when it’s one of the rare big budget epics that runs for less than two hours. However, it’s an amalgamation of much older and vastly superior movies, shot through with some modern day CGI and a star-studded cast doing what they do best.
Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with being perfectly acceptable entertainment, and if you’re willing to get on the same wavelength as the slick, shiny, silly and ultimately hollow Red Notice, you’re not going to be left disappointed.
Red Notice is vastly less than the sum of its parts, with the central trio saving it from mediocrity. It's a perfectly acceptable and decently entertaining $200 million action epic, but nothing more.