Sunday, May 26, 2024

‘Red Notice’ Lays an Egg

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Red Notice proves how movies starring charismatic movie stars in silly plots look easier than it is. The film is an algorithm’s monkey paw wish, something, in theory, we all want but not like this. Despite all the talent in front of the camera, the film is a listless and bland globetrotting excursion.

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Left to right: Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds

Rawson Thurber Howard has made better movies, and I suspect he will again. To be fair to the producers/movie stars and Howard himself, Red Notice isn’t bad, but it is almost unforgivably dry. Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot are very talented in their respective wheelhouses, of which this movie is, but there’s nothing here for them to play with except themselves.

Howard’s script doesn’t help matters. Red Notice constantly winks at the audience to tell us that this is a big dumb movie and that we shouldn’t take it seriously. Except it spends so much time trying to convince us that it becomes grating, and I found myself wishing it would stop letting me in on the joke.

Red Notice is filled with the kind of dialogue that made Ready Player One so irritating. For example, when John Hartley (Johnson) asks how they can find the infamous bejeweled egg once belonging to Cleopatra, Nolan Booth (Reynolds) replies, “I don’t know. Look for a box that says “MacGuffin.” 

The movie goes on like that, with one “clever” dud after another. Eventually, I got to the point where I wondered if sound was necessary for the film.

To Howard’s credit, this plot would typically be enough to keep even a cynical audience entertained. Except, it’s the type of movie that benefits from commercial disruptions. Red Notice isn’t a made-for-streaming movie; this is a made for television movie.

red notice
Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson in a Russian gulag

Special Agent Hartley from the Behavioral Science Unit is on the trail of the great art thief Nolan Booth. Booth is trying to find all three legendary bejeweled eggs that once belonged to Cleopatra, one of whom is rumored to be lost, for an Egyptian Billionaire for his daughter’s wedding. Unfortunately, the Bishop (Gadot), an art thief so legendary she is thought to be made up by the underworld, frames Hartley, steals one of the eggs, and takes Nolan out of the competition in a single stroke.

From a strict plot mechanics angle, Red Notice is fine. To the film’s credit, it plays its brainless facade so well that I was caught off guard when it does something clever. Red Notice is a movie constantly reminding us how much better it could be without ever managing to rise above mediocre.

There’s enough charisma onscreen to help the film lurch across its runtime. The two men could play these roles in their sleep. The problem is it feels as if they are.

Surprisingly, Gadot comes off the best of the three. Gal Gadot is one of those actors who is enviably cursed with being unbelievably gorgeous to the point that it can be hard to figure out how you cast her outside of superhero films. She doesn’t always fare well, but here she seems the most at ease and charming I’ve seen her outside of playing Diana Prince.

In a way, she carries Red Notice to its finish line. The scenes with Gadot don’t explode, but they crackle just a little more than they do without her. She adds a particular missing element, a mixture of glamour and savory villainy.

Red Notice should be an easy layup, but its vanity hobbles it. Usually, whenever Hollywood makes a star-studded cast, they like to pepper in character actors to liven things up a bit. Oh, sure, there’s an intrepid Interpol Agent (Ritu Arya) who plays her part with enough zest that we wish we had more of her. There’s also Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), the Bishop’s partner and thug with a strangling fetish, who, despite his one-note, plays that note perfectly. But they are given precious little to do and even less time with the main three stars, making their impact all the more wanting.

red notice
Gal Gadot fighting Dwayne Johnson

Red Notice could have been made infinitely better had there been a scene with Margo Martindale, John Hawkes, Saul Rubinek, or Keith David. Just a scene where they meet another thief, another conman, or a lawman where they have fun. It would help make the world seem a little bigger than just Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot. 

But it’s all ego. We are given nothing but a three-person show with insufficient material to sustain either the actors or us.

Red Notice is one of those movies where the people behind and front of the camera love movies and will reference either directly or indirectly regardless if it fits or stops the scene dead. So I appreciate that Howard, or Reynolds, or whoever, loves Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels so much to name drop it in the movie, but it doesn’t fit Reynold’s character and feels out of place.

Markus Forderer’s photography runs the gamut of impressive drone work, VFX photography, to ogling its beautiful stars as if it was a Calvin Kelin ad. At times Forderer inadvertently reminds us that we lost something once the practice of matte painting ceased to be commonplace and became a lost art. 

Take the scene involving Reynolds and Johnson in a Spanish coliseum during a bullfight. It is so painfully apparent that it’s Johnson and Reynolds in front of a green screen that I began to wonder if it was Forderer’s way of matching the cartoonish dialogue with a cartoonish backdrop.

It’s important to understand that I wouldn’t have cared about the background had the scene been any good. Had the actors had just a bit more chemistry, I would have found it all so very charming. Instead, I found myself wishing I had laundry to fold. 

That’s the type of movie Red Notice is, something to play in the background. If you devote too much attention to it at once, the whole thing begins to crumble. But, on the other hand, there is some fun to be had and moments where the jokes work. I, for one, laughed at the Russian prison guards scrolling through Putin’s Instagram, liking every post.

Reynolds and Johnson aren’t without any grace. The dance scene between Johnson and Gadot comes close to one of the few things Johnson has ever done broaching sexual chemistry. Plus, at times, Johnson and Reynolds will limp banter to another level to where it’s amusing. But then there are scenes where they try to “justify” these characters as they tell us their tragic backstories.

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Gal Gadot and Dwayne Johnson

One scene, is reminiscent of Martin Brest’s Midnight Run, to the point, that the scene touches on some of the actual dialogue from Brest’s film. The movie repeatedly tries to make the characters more than what they are, names to be worn by movie stars. It wants us to feel for these characters but does so in such a clumsy ham-fisted way that it becomes grating.

Red Notice is a disappointment in almost every aspect. The only bright spot is Gadot, who seems to be having a blast and turning in a beguiling performance. It’s not an innately awful movie, but it misses the mark so badly in such an inartful way, it leaves a rank aftertaste. 

Images courtesy of Netflix

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