Red Notice (2021) Review

Netflix is like the long-defunct Carolco Pictures back in its heyday. You know, the once-thriving independent film studio responsible for massive hits like Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Total Recall (1990) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)? Both studios have something in common and that is they don’t mind spending a fortune to secure the big stars.

And in the case of Red Notice, the streaming giant has gone all out to get three of among the biggest Hollywood stars on the planet right now including Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. All three of them were reportedly paid a cool US$20 million each and that is all, as Red Notice turns out to be Netflix’s most expensive film to date, which costs a whopping US$200 million in total. Of course, Red Notice was supposed to cost lesser than that, though not obviously cheaper (the original budget was a reported US$160 million) if it’s not for a certain pandemic, which forced the film to hold back mid-production.

Unfortunately, spending such an insane amount of money for a big-budget film — a globe-trotting action-comedy, to be exact — that doesn’t come from any successful existing IP but rather relies heavily on massive star powers and large-scale production isn’t going to cut it these days. This is exactly what happens to Red Notice — a passable entertainment plagued by shockingly shoddy CGI (what’s with the too-obvious digital fakery during the bullfighting and sunset scenes?) and hit-and-miss jokes.

The story? Well, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber — yes, the one who was responsible for that disappointing wannabe Die Hard-like Skyscraper (2018) — copied Raiders of the Lost Ark (we even have Ryan Reynolds’ character whistling the iconic John Williams’ theme music) and National Treasure playbooks. But he seems to forget what made those two aforementioned titles such a fun and thrilling action-adventure in the first place. Anyway, we are introduced to top FBI profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), who’s in Rome looking to arrest one of the world’s most wanted criminals — the art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds).

Gal Gadot in Netflix's "Red Notice" (2021)

Here, the film does get off to a promising start, with Hartley trying to catch Booth from running away with one of the three valuable golden eggs that once belonged to Cleopatra. The pace is energetic and especially kudos to Rawson Marshall Thurber’s surprisingly impressive staging and camera work during the elaborate action sequence in the museum. At the beginning of the film, I do enjoy the buddy comedy-style interaction between Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds and the fun continues with them ending up in a Russian prison. The subsequent scene where they plot their escape is equally entertaining, even though some of the CGIs are kind of off-putting.

But as the film goes on and even with Rawson Marshall Thurber tries to amp up his screenplay with plenty of double-crosses along the way, the story gradually loses steam before it fizzles out completely right before it crosses the finish line. The film includes Gal Gadot as the mysterious Bishop, who also happens to be an art thief looking to get her hands on the other two golden eggs. It’s fun to see her playing a scheming femme fatale antagonist for a change, even though her character is disappointingly underwritten.

The same also goes with the two stars, where they do whatever they can in their otherwise paper-thin roles. Sure, both of them get their respective backstories but it’s all laid out in a superficial way possible. But at least Dwayne Johnson’s charismatic action-hero persona and Ryan Reynolds’ snarky trademark are put into decent use and their buddy chemistry provides some diversion here.

Overall, Red Notice is pretty much a forgettable big-budget Netflix film. And frankly, it’s a huge, missed opportunity since they could have done a better job, given all the budget and star powers involved. Well, so much for the hype seeing these three big stars together for the first time because they clearly deserve better than just ending up in such a half-baked effort.

Red Notice is currently streaming on Netflix.

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