Red Notice review: A starry action comedy too slapstick-silly to take seriously
Red Notice (2021 movie)
About midway through Red Notice, Ryan Reynolds' international art thief Nolan Booth starts distractedly humming a snatch of the Indiana Jones theme — that triumphant duh duh-duh DUH melody still instantly familiar even in a few brief, reedy notes. It all makes sense enough in the scene: Booth is inside a Nazi bunker, in a jungle, hunting down stolen treasure; there might even be a lost ark in there somewhere.
But the song is also an unfortunate reminder of everything Red (in theaters Friday and on Netflix Nov. 12) isn't. Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence, We're the Millers) is clearly aiming for the kind of classic action-adventure that used to fill multiplexes, big-tent escapism for anyone who ever dreamed of felt-brim fedoras and international intrigue. Where he lands instead is so frantically, antically silly that his starry heist thriller feels less like a caper than a live-action cartoon, a grab bag of strenuously madcap shenanigans loosely gathered into movie form.
Reynolds at least is not stretching himself to play Booth, a man who never met a security system he couldn't override or a scrape he couldn't ratatat-patter his way out of. He's in the midst of lifting one of three gold-encrusted eggs (a gift, legend has it, from Antony to Cleopatra) from a museum in Rome when his getaway is rudely interrupted by Agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), a human Mack truck with an FBI badge. John has size; Nolan has speed, and shamelessness: He'll try any Keystone-cop trick to get out of trouble. But neither of them is a match for the Bishop (Gal Gadot), the best bandit in the business. And she'll have what they're having, please.
When John is set up to look like he's been secretly partnered with Nolan all along, the pair are — ancient buddy-comedy spoiler! — forced to work together against their will. And so they do, racing through a series of set pieces apparently gathered from the recycling bin of a James Bond edit bay: A Russian-gulag prison break; a glittering Italian villa party thrown by a preening, nefarious arms dealer (Chris Diamantopoulos); a bullfight; a high-speed train ride; a swerve to Bali so quick there's barely time for a cocktail. And then on to Argentina, or at least a bunch of potted palms on a back lot; it doesn't matter too much, as long as a title card and a swooping jump-cut tell us it is so.
Reynolds gets in a few fun lines (there's one pretty great Vin Diesel joke, and approximately 27 about Johnson's hair), but he's like a wasp, buzzing and darting so hectically that Johnson isn't left to do much except look bemused and hold on to the ropes of whatever helicopter swings by as best as he can. Gadot can wear a drop-dead gown and Krav-Maga a man into submission in her sleep; she breezes through the movie without breaking a sweat, or a character note. For all the outsize fight scenes and casual profanity though, the whole thing is oddly bloodless. (Even a rampaging bull hardly leaves a bruise.) And so Red Notice goes: blithely skimming through its slapstick fantasy, and laying bejeweled eggs wherever it lands. Grade: C+
Dwayne Johnson joins forces with Ryan Reynolds to track down Gal Gadot's master art thief in this globetrotting adventure.