Red Notice – out today on Netflix – is officially an action-comedy. But it’s not good for either of those main ingredients. Above all, he keeps throwing out a series of one-liners without ever engaging in his jokes. The Netflix movie, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Skyscraper), lacks a personality — it screams bland acting for most of its 117-minute runtime. I saw it earlier this week and I’ve already forgotten most of its action sequences. This is to say how immemorial they are. Essentially, Red Notice is a very unremarkable heist movie with little flair and panache of its own. Except it features three of Hollywood’s leading actors
actors stars. And this is the only reason it exists.
Watching the film makes it clear that Red Notice was designed as a star vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot. They know, Netflix knows, and the filmmakers know that audiences show up to see their faces, which is why the three Johnsons, Reynolds, and Gadot play less characters and more a version of themselves. Reynolds does his usual (Deadpool) shtick, except in a PG-13 family fashion. Red Notice is also extremely family friendly. Although bullets and explosions dot the film, there is no blood, wounds or corpses. Johnson is deprived of his signature smile and eyebrows, and has to make do with a lot of stares during his time with Reynolds. Gadot seems the most herself and the one having the most fun.
That said, Red Notice is at its best when it puts the trio in a room – it needed more and better dialogue exchanges to go along with the scenes. But it’s such a shy movie. Red Notice plays it safe, there’s no risk taking or big swings here. It’s about creating a new Netflix IP – that’s all Hollywood is looking for these days – and it’s not only cynical, but also a waste of money. Netflix spent over $200 million (around Rs 1,489 crore) on the movie, one of the most expensive of all time. A big part of that is wages. Johnson, Reynolds and Gadot were all paid over $20 million (about Rs. 149 crore). For this? It’s crazy.
And while Red Notice does its best to show you its globe-trotting status – from Rome to Bali, Russia to Valencia, Argentina to Cairo and Sardinia to Paris, the names are spat out at large print screen – it’s crazy how small the movie feels. It’s probably because Red Notice spends a lot of time indoors. What’s the point of traveling around the world and being there when you’re just… inside?
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At first glance, Red Notice has “characters” although they are really window dressing. Johnson plays FBI Special Agent John Hartley who is described as the world’s greatest profiler, Reynolds is the world’s greatest con man Nolan Booth, whose status as a renowned art thief is overshadowed by the up-and-coming The Bishop, played by Gadot who doesn’t even have a name on screen forgets the backstory. It’s not like the other two who fare better – their character development on Red Notice is basically “dad issues.” The Netflix movie is equally clunky with its exposition, its characters providing us with regular information, either talking about themselves, filling us in on a twist, or guiding us through their plan ahead. Everything is very on the nose.
Red Notice also has a plot, though it doesn’t matter, as Reynolds himself notes in a fourth MacGuffin comment: An Egyptian billionaire wants Egyptian queen Cleopatra’s three lost eggs — invented, not a real thing — for the wedding. of his daughter also named Cleopatra. He offers hundreds of millions in reward. Reynolds and Gadot’s characters are both after the prize, with Johnson hot on their heels.
They are also followed by Inspector Das (Ritu Arya, of The Umbrella Academy), the super cop of Interpol. But she has a thankless little role, just like Silicon Valley‘s bro-y shower-y Russ Hanneman — I mean Chris Diamantopoulos, who plays minor villain Sotto Voce. He’s stuck with a terrible accent that almost sounds like someone played a prank on him.
Although drowned out by cacophony later on, Red Notice does some great things early on. While Johnson is tall and broad, Reynolds is sleek and fast. This results in a nice contrast at the start of the action. Reynolds jumps through hoops, dodges around obstacles, and can find his way without creating damage unless he wants to. Johnson just smashes into things with his weight – he’s inelegant unlike Reynolds, but gets the job done. Annoyingly, Red Notice forgets to use this contrast after this scene is over. Also, while there are flashes of comedy during the action scenes here and there, it’s too generic for most.
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Red Avis desperately wants to be with the best action movies, but he puts in very little effort. Thurber has nothing to offer here that we haven’t seen a hundred times before.
The Chris Hemsworth-directed Extraction – another of Netflix’s efforts to have action movie IPs – might have been equally poor in the narrative department and wasting its talented actors, but at least it’s was committed to providing action. With 99 million Netflix member households watching Extraction in the first four weeks after release, that was enough to land a sequel that begins filming later in November and is slated to arrive in April 2023.
Netflix doesn’t have a John Wick, Fast & Furious or Mission: Impossible per se – and the desperation is palpable. But not all of them have succeeded as extractions in getting a franchise off the ground. It’s already been tried out with Will Smith on Bright, but an immediately greenlit sequel has yet to materialize four years later. Then there was the Reynolds-directed 6 Underground in late 2019, the sequel of which was canceled with Netflix – in a rare admission – noting that the movie didn’t work.
But it doesn’t stop. In addition to Red Notice very intentionally leaving room for a sequel, Netflix already has another $200 million action-thriller franchise starter lined up: The Gray Man, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, and the directors of Avengers: Endgame at the helm. Gosling is set to reprise his role in The Gray Man sequels. Netflix has a lot of cash to spend, and it will apparently continue to burn tons of it until it strikes gold.
Red Notice’s future may depend on how the public receives it. One would expect it to break Extraction’s opening month record, given the star power attached to it. But whether he deserves a future is a whole other debate. For what it’s worth, the franchises have been handed over to a better writer and director. Except it’s not that simple for Red Notice 2. Johnson isn’t just one of the three leads, he’s also a producer for Red Notice. And as such, he has tremendous control over the direction of the Netflix movie (and potential series).
As his stature in Hollywood grew, Johnson’s circle became smaller. He has worked with Thurber twice before: the 2018 action thriller Skyscraper and the 2016 action comedy Central Intelligence. He has also worked with Brad Peyton three times, including the 2015 disaster film San Andreas, and the 2018 monster movie Rampage. And the guy who delivered his Disney Jungle Cruise vehicle, Jaume Collet-Serra, was also tapped to deliver Johnson’s DC debut as Black Adam. Johnson clearly works with these directors because he knows he’s the biggest authority in the room, especially as the producer of all of these films. He’s basically the ghost director.
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Johnson is unlikely to concede control to an auteur filmmaker. That’s part of why Johnson couldn’t work on Fast & Furious anymore, I believe. Vin Diesel is the star and producer of this franchise, and there just wasn’t room for two of the same. Instead, Johnson went to create an oversized version of it all over Hollywood. He does more or less the same everywhere he goes, be it Rampage, Jumanji or Red Notice – and he hasn’t even completely left Fast & Furious behind, reprising his role in the in-between spin-off. Hobbs & Shaw which also has a sequel in development.
Most of his movies make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, and that’s why everyone wants to be a part of Johnson’s business. For Netflix, it’s all about how many subscribers they can attract (and retain), with the combined power of Deadpool, The Rock and Wonder Woman. Red Notice is a criminal waste of money and time for everyone – except those who were paid $20 million.
Red Notice is released Friday, November 12 at 1:30 p.m. IST / 12 a.m. PT on Netflix worldwide. In India, Red Notice is available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.