Red Notice 2021

One of the supposed beauties of Netflix, and all other streamers with access to such vast resources, is that without the panicked need for box office success, there’s a certain freedom that’s then afforded. The risks that might be deemed too precarious in the global marketplace (Too original? Too adult? Too gay?) are no longer of such prioritised concern and thus big budgets can be allocated to biggish bets. It’s why Netflix was confident to take on Martin Scorsese’s $160m crime saga The Irishman after Paramount deemed it too expensive and why the streamer also spent $70m to kick off the Old Guard franchise with a diverse cast and a central, uncensored queer romance. Both paid off (the films rank among the streamer’s most-watched) and showed that a brave new world away from the safe repetition of homogeneous superheroes, remakes and superhero remakes might be possible.

Watch Here: 'Red Notice' 2021

So with the arrival of Red Notice, a film that allegedly cost upwards of $200m, making it Netflix’s biggest budget to date, one might hope for something slightly out of the ordinary, a much-needed tweak on what a traditional studio might otherwise lazily offer. But what makes the film so maddening, along with many, many other reasons, is that it’s the most boringly indistinctive patchwork job we’ve seen for a long while, a beige piece of committee-approved product that slums from point A to point B to who cares. Like an increasing number of the streamer’s mass-market offerings, the overriding message appears to be: see, we can make films just as badly as everyone else! So much for the great disruptor.

The script was at one point the centre of a heated auction with all the majors jostling for rights before Universal snapped them up but down the line, there was trepidation over the expense and Netflix stepped in to give the green light instead. It’s easy to see why as there’s inherently safe global appeal – Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot starring in an action comedy about global heists – elements that would make this worth the investment in or outside of the lower stakes world of streaming. But while the stage is set for a sleek James Bond meets Indiana Jones meets Ocean’s Eleven meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels caper, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber stumbles on his way there, misfiring on every conceivable level, a film trying so hard to recall the fun of other films that it forgets to have any fun for itself.

A red notice is a type of high-level international warrant afforded to an on-the-run-criminal, causing FBI agent John Hartley (Johnson) to track slippery art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) all the way to Rome. They’re forced into an uneasy partnership due to some guff about three golden eggs that Cleopatra used to own and that Booth is trying to steal. He almost manages to nab the first but Hartley intervenes and sends him to a remote Russian jail, a jail where he himself then ends up after he’s framed for stealing the egg by The Bishop (Gadot), another art thief eager to own them for herself. Hartley and Booth then decide to team up and take her down.

The megabucks assembly of A-listers (each received a reported $20m for the film) might make sense in a boardroom – combined they have a reach of almost 400 million Instagram followers and their films have made over $20bn at the global box office – but there’s a vast, vibe-killing gap between what makes sense on paper and what works on screen. For a frippery such as this to fly, sky-high star power is as integral as bombastic set pieces but there’s a total lack of connective chemistry between the trio, each ill-suited to their role and the territory. It’s the worst, most removed algorithmic casting possible (even in Thurber’s ho-hum action comedy Central Intelligence, there was a spark between Johnson and co-star Kevin Hart) and watching the three on-screen makes for an overwhelmingly flat experience. Anything sexy is made asexual, anything charming is made charmless and so what should be a smooth ride is turned into a bumpy slog.

The rat-a-tat back-and-forth between sworn enemies turned begrudging buddies Johnson and Reynolds is strikingly, embarrassingly unfunny and rapidly grating, thanks mostly to a spectacularly annoying turn from the latter, reheating his Deadpool and Free Guy shtick but with even less effective writing to play with. The dated pop culture references (Jurassic Park? Pulp Fiction? A Borat impression?) are as tiresome as the many schoolyard gay jokes and while one can understand the monetary appeal for them both, it feels like a career regression, remixing former glories rather than doing anything fresh. Gadot is not much help either, in a much smaller role, failing to bring any of the vampy fun required, sleepwalking through the motions, adept only when fighting. The nonsensically convoluted plot would perhaps be more forgivable if the stars were charismatic enough or the action were exciting enough but in a desperate search for something to squeeze enjoyment out of, it’s left to the locations to pick up the slack, the one good use of the film’s monstrous budget, whisking us around the world for some nice scenery while everything around it crumbles.

There’s something so soulless and ineffectual about the aggressively unnecessary Red Notice that it almost plays like a pastiche of a Hollywood blockbuster, like a bot consumed the last 20 years of studio fare and spat out a facsimile as an experiment. No one expects films like this to change the game but, at the very least, they should be able to play it.

Red Notice is out in selected cinemas from 5 November and on Netflix on 12 November
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