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Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice 
(2021)

(SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice. Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead, it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

The most salient identifier that swims into focus with Red Notice, however, is less its quality than its price tag. How did this thing cost $200m? Even subtracting ludicrous paydays for Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds, of $20m each, it ranks as the third most expensive of their self-financed offerings to date (Red Notice was initially a Universal prospect, before Netflix took it on in 2019, prior to the start of production). 6 Underground cost $150m, but it’s Michael Bay, and it looks like it cost a lot. I can also believe Triple Frontier was genuinely expensive ($115m); Midnight Sky’s $100m and The Outlaw King’s $120m much less so.

It’s the exorbitant price of The Irishman ($150m) that leads me to doubt Red Notice’s tally, though. No one watching The Irishman is going to come away believing less than it functioning as a massive funnel for money laundering, since there is zero evidence on screen for how it was so cost-prohibitive. A six-year old with a set of crayons could have achieved better de-aging effects. When you also factor in this movie, whereby the majority of the footage appears to have been achieved via Unreal Engine, although to a much lower standard than The Mandalorian, your suspicions are likely to be further piqued. I guess, on the flip side, we’ve reached the point where cinematography is now so affected and foreign to anything relatable outside (often of the two-tone, tinted variety), the Unreal Engine’s virtual results can only be an improvement. Which is probably where “they” wanted to take things.

Also incoming is the Russo Brothers’ The Gray Man, pegged at another hefty $200m. I might suggest it’s great that Netflix are supporting auteurs like Rawson Marshall Thurber and the Russos, but they also supported Scorsese, who is clearly senile if he thinks he in any way successfully presented his Irishman characters over a span of decades. Mind you, he must have been pretty deluded to believe anyone would buy Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci as contemporaries in Goodfellas. I still have a cognitive dissonance on that one.

It’s quite possible that, by virtue of an “okay” verdict, I’m giving Red Notice too a easy pass. I suspect your mileage will vary, depending on your tolerance levels for Reynolds. I can find him much, much too much, but he’s the sole reason for watching this one, pressed into the service of a higher cause. Namely, taking the piss out of Johnson throughout. To which extent, The Rock, as the straight man (ostensibly Special Agent John Hartley), is serviceably cast. It even pays off when the twist is revealed, because Dwayne, with his strictly limited performative abilities, was never going to convey a hint of an undercurrent of deception when it came to his actually being in cahoots with Gadot (as master thief The Bishop aka Sarah Black). Reynolds is another super thief, Nolan Booth, although he’s more quip smart than cunning.

Gadot, called upon do little more than simmer with slinky suggestiveness while taking a superior tone, is also reasonably cast in that regard. Her range has come under increased scrutiny – along with her vocal political positions – of late, but she can’t go any more astray than Johnson in this kind of movie. While he looks aggrieved/enraged, from the front (“Does the back of your head look like a huge penis? The answer is yes”), she appears above it all, which is the only sensible way to respond to a Reynolds revel. For contrast, witness the hopelessly floundering Ritu Arya as dogged Inspector Urvashi Das, whose every line reading extends seven miles of plank.

Thurber’s transition from comedy to blockbuster territory is one of the more mystifying developments of the Hollywood directors’ directory. Others have done it – Shawn Levy – but with more appreciable chops involved. Thurber, who started out with Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, essentially appears to have lucked-in by currying favour with Johnson, a notoriously unfussy appreciator of talent. Central Intelligence led to Skyscraper, which led to this.

Johnson also went this route with Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Rampage) and Jaume Collet-Serra (more than competent at a certain kind of movie, of which Jungle Cruise is not one). You can see Thurber would like to be able shoot and edit this picture with flair, élan and rhythm, but he simply doesn’t have the acumen. So Red Notice moves swiftly from set piece to set piece, all of which are more notable for the comedic cut and thrust than the action. Unfortunately, you can’t just say the latter doesn’t matter when you’re spending this much on it, any more than the “That’ll do” screenplay, which seems be invoking a mixture of Indiana Jones, National Treasure and To Catch a Thief… No, scratch the latter. More like Entrapment.

Somehow, it turns out Booth knows the location of Cleopatra’s third egg thanks to a Nazi’s watch formerly in his father’s possession, one capable of unlocking the door of a vault in an underground Argentinean jungle bunker. These eggs represent the most mediocre of inspirational prizes, so much so that Thurber’s happy to have Booth suggest Hartley “Look for a box that says ‘McGuffin’” once they’re in the South American vault. That and references to foreshadowing push this towards Road to… territory, but it could have benefited from going further.

Particularly when you have Reynolds and Johnson thrown in a Russian prison by Interpol. Quite why this should happen is anyone’s guess. Similarly, their attempts at genuine buddy interaction, entirely unwarranted since the movie is so determinedly superficial (meaning the swapping of dad stories, fake as one may be, are empty sentiment). Midnight Run this ain’t, so Thurber ought to have been more aware of what he was swinging for; instead, it seems any target will do at any given time, with Reynolds in “up” mode relied upon to paper over the cracks. And obviously, since this is mostly the two male leads scoring points of each other, there needs to be a scene where Gadot kicks both their asses, just so the overall hierarchy is clear. The unapologetic genital torture is simply icing on that fried cajones cake. This is big, brash family entertainment. With testicular torment.

Occasionally, Thurber happens upon some decent plotting, such as the reveal of Booth’s escape plan, casually implemented throughout his stay in the prison. And as mentioned, the reveal of Hartley’s affiliation works because Johnson is utterly inert as a performer. Throw in Chris Diamantopoulos as arms dealer Sotto Voce (“You look like a muscular toddler”), and there’s a resultantly curious interlude overtly invoking “Eyes Wide Shut shit”. Curious, because Reynolds characterises “evil one-percenters” as little more than Voce’s top buyers. Certainly not Hollywood players in the $20m club.

Mostly, though, Red Notice lives or dies on Reynolds. Early on, Hartley asks if Booth knows who he is: “You’re the slow, bald guy who’s been chasing me” Booth responds. Jibes are ten-a-penny, including “You’re like a well-dressed wall” and Hartley having his “ass kicked by a toothless man with tuberculosis”. Gadot’s perfection also elicits amusing rebukes: “You look awful”; “Your entrances are bullshit”; “You sneaky little minx!” Even when Booth’s been taken for a ride, he can still be relied upon to belittle: “You weren’t the only one who was crying at the end of your lovemaking”. Reynolds is evidently victim to comedic incontinence, fit for any situation: “Say what you will about Russian prisons, the soap is incredible”; “I guess they’re paying the utilities” in reference to the Argentinean basement (Hartley’s qualification that there must be hydroelectric power absolutely should have been cut); on being left to roast in the jungle – “I have no base. This is spray tan”.

Hartley: You know what I think is funny, Booth?
Booth: Vin Diesel’s audition tape for Cats? It exists.

And of course, the above gag; whether Johnson corpsed when Reynolds first offered it is up for debate, but he remains reliably stony faced in the edit. Also deserving praise is the Ed Sheeran cameo mocking his cameo history: “I was in Game of Thrones!” Both are grist to the mill of suggesting Red Notice would have been more effective had it paid even less regard to the diegetic demands of the heist/action-adventure movie and instead treated itself as an outright spoof. In any event, Red Notice is okay.


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