Red Notice is a 2021 American action comedy film written, directed, and produced by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Dwayne Johnson, who also served as a producer, stars as an FBI agent who reluctantly teams up with a renowned art thief (Ryan Reynolds) in order to catch an even more notorious criminal (Gal Gadot). With such a star-studded cast, you would expect stellar performances but sadly you would be mistaken. It’s a pity as I was hoping for much more from this movie.
Johnson plays John Hartley, an intelligent FBI profiler (terrible casting there since Johnson looks anything but a profiler for the FBI – perhaps a door smasher for the FBI SWAT team) who locks up famed art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) (Ryan Reynolds not realizing he isn’t playing Deadpool) only to end up framed for the same crime and thrown in a prison cell with Booth. It turns out both of them have been played by the Bishop (Gal Gadot), a femme fatale art thief (resembling a pretty mannequin at a posh Italian apparel store) bent on stealing all three of Cleopatra’s mythic golden eggs to sell on the black market. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game leads the characters to exotic locales like Bali, Rome, and Argentina, though these backdrops are not explored by the characters or even shown much on-screen beyond title cards announcing the location.
While the plot — reluctant partners teaming up to take down a common enemy — is nothing new, the chemistry and charisma of the film’s leading men make the tired setup feel fresh. In an amusing scene, Reynolds loudly outs Johnson as a member of law enforcement in the middle of a Russian prison cafeteria, much to Johnson’s chagrin. After the two make a daring and improbable escape from prison (involving tough Russian guards who cannot hit a single thing even with a heatseeker), they’re grateful for a change of clothes — until Johnson finds out that all there is for him to wear is a sparkly sweater that says “Gotta Dance.” These and other moments where the two stars playfully antagonize each other are among the film’s more entertaining moments. Perhaps this should come as no surprise given Johnson’s past success playing the ‘straight man’ to an off-the-cuff partner. However, Reynolds does explore homo-erotic humor with Johnson, a little too much, where instead of being funny it comes off more like – “just come out of the closet already!!”.
The same cannot be said of the scenes they share with Gadot, who delivers a performance almost as wooden as a Bavarian forest during winter. Most of Gadot’s time on screen is spent kicking, tripping, and otherwise incapacitating the men of “Red Notice” to get what she wants. Her character is able to outwit and even outfight Hartley and Booth with minimal effort (bizarre but it’s what sells these days), whether intercepting a phone call from an INTERPOL Inspector or pretending to be the warden of the gulag they’re locked up in. Also, why are con artists, also excellent martial artists, weapons experts and capable of taking out multiple enemies? Why aren’t more of them auditioning for the now open 007 role?
Booth and Hartley both have backstories about how their fathers led them into their respective career paths. The most we learn of Gadot’s “Bishop” comes from a twist revealed in the final minutes of the film, and even that fails to give any real insight into her motivations. If anything, Gadot’s character is less developed than Inspector Das, a minor character played by “Umbrella Academy” alum Ritu Arya who is another diversity hire considering how she is wasted in the film and one can only guess why she was hired in a role that has no meat. Together they form a triumvirate of stereotypes: the lawful strongman, the cunning jester and the femme fatale. Constant rug-pullings complicate this equation, though not in any genuinely surprising ways — the performances are too sleepy and perfunctory to pull off the film’s many tricks and double-crossings with any flair or umph. And then there’s the script, which turns Reynolds into a cursed generator of lame quips.
Red Notice belongs to that action-comedy genre where the writing is never taken seriously. If you look at the story, it’s pretty much that age-old template of twists that is now very familiar for the audience. For a heist movie seemingly planting the seeds for a franchise in the vein of “The Mummy” or “National Treasure” movies, there’s no sense of discovery, no anticipatory thrills as our heroes find and connect the clues. Uninterested in world building or creating any sense of stakes, “Red Notice” is merely an expensive brandishing of star power — only the stars haven’t got it in them.
Gadot’s performance aside, “Red Notice” is a passable film. Does it have complex characters? No. A compelling, original story? Not quite. Go in with the mindset of seeing your favorite actors play action-hero versions of themselves while delivering a few exhale-worthy jokes, and you won’t be disappointed