Barely Noticeable

‘Red Notice’, coasting along the money train

Since its Netflix release on November 5, Red Notice has been watched for hundreds of millions of hours. The streaming site says the film enjoyed the biggest debut it has ever seen and, despite fall-offs being the norm for online movies, the triple-star vehicle even retained its “most-watched” spot in the streaming site’s top 10 for a second week.

It’s appropriate that Netflix released Red Notice during the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference because it’s a poster child for “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Although you can watch “Red Notice” on a big screen, it really is better off on a device with a small screen where the poor design and paper-thin pretense of the fake locations (that the pandemic necessitated) don’t matter. A reduced world warrants a reduced screen.

The success of the film comes from its stars, Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Gal Gadot. They are all likeable leads who have headed their own films and, indeed, they are all actors who have exceeded expectations over the years. But here there are no surprises from them — or from Ritu Arya (of Umbrella Academy) supporting as Inspector Das. In a bewildering world it’s good to have things you can rely on. Ryan Reynolds plays the same wise-cracking Ryan Reynolds as usual; Johnson plays The Rock; and Gadot plays Wonder Woman with a twist of extra mischief.

Though they barely need them, the three stars have character names in Red Notice (Nolan Booth, John Hartley and “The Bishop”). In an interview, director Rawson Marshall Thurber asked rhetorically, “So what does happen when you get Deadpool, Wonder Woman, and Black Adam in the immediate vicinity of one another?” He provides his own answer in Red Notice. Red Notice is exactly what would happen if you had those three together without the writers behind Deadpool, Wonder Woman or Black Adam.

Even the plot is recycled. The pitch is Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The Imposters meets Revenge of the Pink Panther. Con artists and international thieves try to find and steal the three golden eggs of Cleopatra to sell to an Egyptian billionaire, while Interpol and the FBI try to stop them. If it sounds like a video game then it probably will be one soon.

Except Thurber isn’t Spielberg, Reynolds isn’t Peter Sellers, Johnson isn’t Harrison Ford and Gal Gadot isn’t even the best Israeli actress for the part—that would have been Inbar Lavi from The Imposters. But writer-director Thurber makes sure to checks all the boxes. Chase scene: check. Slow motion exit from water of beautiful Gadot, check—of muscled Johnson, check. The Rock in mass fight scene, check. Bad guy with English accent, check. Indeterminate exotic locations, check. McGuffins, check. Luxurious millionaire’s tropical getaway, check. Nazi loot, check.

Thurber paces the film so well, with such light and serviceable dialogue that its utter lack of substance, quality or distinguishing features barely register. Red Notice is so unremarkable, it’s not even a disappointment. There are plot holes larger than ones you could punch through a studio wall with an armor-plated Nazi Mercedes Benz Grosser 770 but they are entirely unimportant. Revealing a car detail would be a spoiler if this plot were anything that could be spoiled. But plastic food doesn’t spoil.

Critiquing Red Notice as if it were a blockbuster evening entertainment for a theater date is to miss the point though. With a budget of $200 million its brief is simple—keep the money train rolling. In a meme world, cliches are comfortable; on mobile devices the spectacular is safe; if plot moves fast enough, it does its job of keeping people watching. Tune in for the latest Reynolds self-aware mixture of whiny and brave, watch the Rock being massive and likeable, thrill to Gadot’s ability to be a sexy action hero.

There’s no significant bad guy, just some stories of abusive fathers and evidence of ineffectual policing. At the end everyone wins enough for us to enjoy, but everyone loses just enough to lead us to the sequel. If you liked this, you’ll like that. The end of the movie is literally the first scene of the next movie, because of course, choo choo… money train.

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Dan Friedman

Dan Friedman is the former executive editor of the Forward and the author of an ebook about Tears for Fears, the 80s rock band. He has a PhD from Yale and writes about books, whisky and the dangers of online hate. Subscribe to his newsletter.

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