A film review by Craig J. Koban November 24, 2021



2021, PG-13, 116 mins.

Dwayne Johnson as John Hartley  /  Ryan Reynolds as Nolan Booth  /  Gal Gadot as Sarah Black  /  Ritu Arya as Inspector Urvashi Das  /  Chris Diamantopoulos as Sotto Voce

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber


There's a moment in Netflix's new action comedy RED NOTICE that had me incredulously rolling my eyes so much that I thought they were going to be blasted out of the back of my skull. 

During the scene in question, Ryan Reynolds' character is being confronted by a squad of Interpol agents that are looking to arrest this most wanted thief.  We see this guy guzzling down on what appears to be gin...but it's not just any gin.  If you have an eagle eye like me, then you'll notice that on the table next to the glass is a bottle of Aviation Gin, that has its label oh-so-conveniently turned to the camera for quick brand identification.  

Ryan Reynolds is a co-owner of Aviation Gin, a company with an estimated worth of more than half a billion dollars.   

My.  Lord.   

Product placement doesn't get more astoundingly on the nose and aggressive minded than this. 

Actually, there's even another instance of distracting product placement just minutes before this, which features a can of Coca-Cola being used to be poured over a fake piece of antiquity.  The soda beverage instantly eats away and dissolves the phony item.  Now, this might be one of the first instances of product placement that does not in any way shape or form frame the product in question in an appealing light. 

I was so turned off by RED NOTICE so early on that I started to observe other things happening in the frame opposite of stars Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson, and Gal Gadot, three of the most limitlessly attractive and likeable of performers.  That's not a ringing endorsement of their star power and attractiveness, though, that permeates this globetrotting caper comedy, and considering that the aforementioned actors are being placed front and center here, the resulting film is a chronic misfire of alarming proportions.  How could charismatic and beautiful people such as this trio just completely fizzle in this limp and creatively bankrupted NATIONAL TREASURE wanna-be?  Perhaps even more scandalous was the fact that this is the streaming giant's most expensive movie to date at nearly $200 million.  Now, much of that arguably went to covering the headliners' salaries (and Aviation Gin tie-ins!), but this film is hopelessly cheap looking at times.  There's a sequence later in the story that has Reynolds and The Rock bickering with one another while obviously on a green screen stage that's masquerading as a stadium with an equally fake looking CG bull chasing them...and I had to pinch and remind myself that RED NOTICE cost $40 million more to produce than DUNE and impossibly appears about forty times cheaper looking than that sci-fi opus.   

This is how hundreds of millions are spent these days? 



And considering what must have been a mighty payday for the usually appealing Johnson, he has never been so stiffly sleep walking through a film as he is here playing FBI profiler John Hartley, who's in hot pursuit of master thief Nolan (Reynolds) to bring this crook to justice.  In the opening of the film, Nolan has just secured Cleopatra's Egg, one of three eggs, actually, that are one of the most sought after ancient treasures in the world.  Nolan is apprehended by John, but the latter's career and life is pretty quickly ruined by a sabotaging hacker going by the alias The Bishop (Gal Gadot), who - wouldn't ya know it - also wants the eggs all for herself.  She manages to cunningly frame John for conspiring with Nolan for the early theft, sending both of the men to a Russian prison to suffer.  Realizing that they can pool their respective skills and team-up to take down and seek revenge on The Bishop and nab the last egg before she can, the duo break out of the slammer and plot a devious plan of comeuppance.  Unfortunately for the pair, The Bishop has many more tricks up her sleeve to keep them always at a great distance from achieving their end game prize.   

There is one good scene in RED NOTICE that I admired.  One.  It's a well choreographed and semi-kinky three-way fight sequence pitting The Bishop rather dexterously beating the tar out of the uncoordinated Nolan and John, who seem amusingly flabbergasted at just how physically imposing and lethal she can be in a donnybrook.  Now, there are very few actresses - or actors period - that would convincingly make me believe that they could effectively and easily top Johnson and Reynolds in a brawl...but it's definitely Wonder Woman herself.  The interplay and verbal sparring between these performers should have absolutely ruled the day of RED NOTICE, but beyond semi-inspired action sequences like this it's pretty staggering just how little chemistry that, for example, these stars have on screen.  The film tries to set up some sexual tension between Johnson and Gadot, but they're a hopelessly incompatible pair here.  Johnson should have radiated wily charm, but seems mostly comatose as the straight man in the film.  Gadot fares a bit better and tries to inject some playful spunk into her character, but on paper she's not particularly well defined here...nor are John and Nolan. 

Speaking of Nolan...this character represents Reynolds in full-on motor-mouthed Reynolds-ian mode that has a sarcastic quip for literally every exchange.  Reynolds is a good actor at this type of rat-ta-tat/give-and-take and can unleash zingers with the best of them, but his schtick (which he perfected to snarky perfection in the DEADPOOL films) has become really, really, really tiresome to experience in every film he occupies.  I like the Canadian actor a lot, but he's become so woefully typecast - perhaps by his own design - playing multiple iterations of his widely popular Marvel Comics merc-with-the-mouth that it's becoming hard to seem him branch out and try something different.  This leads to ample creative staleness in most of his new films, and seeing him embody the umpteenth iteration of a flippant man-child persona that's a joke generation machine has become more irksome lately.  We need to see Reynolds in more films like BURIED or MISSISSIPPI GRIND than THE HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD and now this.  That's not good for his brand, but would be better for his career respectability.  

And, yet again, I must ask: Why does RED NOTICE looks so cheap and shoddy?  Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (who previously teamed up with Johnson on the okay CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE and the mostly meh SKYSCRAPER) has been given considerable financial resources to make his heist thriller visually stand out from the pack, but RED NOTICE looks like a shoddily constructed assembly line effort and lacks any sort of visual panache.  Just considering the scope of the locations all around the world that this film takes viewers on, and many of which are augmented by some decidedly second-rate CGI.  There were few times in RED NOTICE when I believed that its main stars were actually in Rome, Russia, London, or Egypt.  That coliseum sequence referenced earlier is one of the many egregious offenders in the film, which seems to constantly flip the bird to any notion of practical and tangible location shooting.  I was embarrassed for the actors in moments like this; RED NOTICE wants to look like it belongs in an epically staged playground with the other big genre boys, but it simply has the veneer of a made for TV effort throughout.  

What a waste of resources.  And talent.  And our time. 

Other things annoyed me to no end (sorry, I'm now in ranting and raving mode).  RED NOTICE's attempts at sly meta humor are groan-inducing (hey, is that Reynolds humming John Williams' INDIANA JONES theme while raiding a tomb...how clever!).  If the disposable and annoyingly derivative hatchet job like nature of this film isn't a turn-off enough, the screenplay then serves up one whopper of an unearned, would-be shocking plot twist at the eleventh hour that then goes out of its way to (sigh) set up a franchise with more of these films to come.  I didn't buy the long con game contained within...like...at all, nor was I convinced that I ever want to watch another movie like this with Johnson, Gadot, and Reynolds sharing the screen again.  There have been paycheck grabbing efforts for actors before, but RED NOTICE is perhaps the most deliberate that I've experienced as of late.  

And don't forget, this is Netflix's most expensive film to date.  It cost as much as one and a half DUNES.  

Remember this when all of our Netflix subscriptions go up again next year. 

Now, if you'll excuse me...I'm going to drown my sorrows in a beverage.  I hear Aviation Gin is good. 

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