Over a dozen better action flicks Netflix’s ‘Red Notice’ will remind you of
A by-the-numbers studio blockbuster originally acquired by Universal and engineered to strike box office gold, the pricey Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-Ryan Reynolds vehicle “Red Notice” instead arrives this week as a Netflix original, testing the algorithm and the limits of tentpole moviemaking on our streaming screens. Featuring famous movie stars in exotic globe-trotting locales, heist hijinks and the vague sheen of a dozen other action flicks you know and love, what’s not to like?
A lot, say critics. (Read Justin Chang’s review of the “imitation blockbuster” here.)
Fueled more by star power than compelling storytelling, “Red Notice” stars the usually charming Johnson as an FBI profiler who reluctantly teams with a wisecracking art thief (Reynolds) against an even wilier art thief dubbed the Bishop (played by Gal Gadot) to track down a trio of priceless golden artifacts known as Cleopatra’s Eggs. That’s right — “Red Notice” is a literal Easter egg hunt of a movie, evidence that the filmmakers are at least attempting to wink at their audience.
Alas, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence,” “Skyscraper”) and filmed mostly on Atlanta soundstages standing in for Italy, Russia and South America, “Red Notice” borrows and steals from so many other films it fails to conjure its own magic. With a budget that reportedly skyrocketed toward $200 million and a production hampered by the pandemic, one of Netflix’s costliest stabs yet at launching an original franchise suffers the fatal flaws of being derivative, hollow and bland, even if the parts add up on paper.
So why not watch the other, much better movies “Red Notice” cribs from? Here are the ones you’ll wish you were watching instead.
Just about any “Fast & Furious” film
Global star, celebrity tequila slinger and WWE champ Johnson earned the nickname “Franchise Viagra” when he stepped into the “Fast & Furious” series and helped crank it to 11. Johnson even shared the screen with a cameoing Reynolds in his own 2019 “Fast” spinoff, “Hobbs & Shaw,” and crossed over with Gadot’s popular run as Gisele in the supercharged blockbusters. Which is why it’s even more People’s Eyebrow-raising when “Red Notice” takes a swipe at Vin Diesel, adding fuel to the long-running “Fast” beef between the two stars and leaving the fate of one sequel lingering in your mind: Not “Red Notice 2,” but “Fast 10.”
“Star Trek” (2009)
Speaking of fast cars: as Johnson’s cerebral, leather-jacketed FBI profiler John Hartley pursues Reynolds’ Nolan Booth outside Rome’s Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo, Booth steals a motorbike to kick off an epic high-speed chase. Hartley hops in a waiting Porsche and kicks it into gear to the opening sounds of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys — and as it’s played for a gag, you’ll remember how young James T. Kirk did it better in the 23rd century joyriding through Iowa.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark”
Look up “on the nose” in the dictionary and you’ll find Reynolds, wearing an Indiana Jones outfit and fedora, whistling the “Indiana Jones” theme song as Booth and Hartley descend into a subterranean Nazi bunker full of stolen loot. They even use a medallion-like token and tumble into an underground chase in the most unoriginal sequence of the film, winding down the clock with time-wasting references to “Pulp Fiction” as the plot plods along to its next destination.
Reynolds takes his trademark quippery to new irritating heights here with a ceaseless stream of one-liners better suited to his “Deadpool” antihero. Given a shell of a character to work with, Reynolds drains all the charm out of his signature schtick while adding nothing to the proceedings with self-referential throwaway lines like, “Look for a box that says, ‘MacGuffin.’”
“First Strike,” “Rush Hour 2” and every Jackie Chan movie, really
It’s no coincidence that Reynolds’ best moment is one in which he has zero spoken dialogue. Instead, using found objects and ingenuity à la Jackie Chan, he escapes up a museum scaffold while outwitting guards not with lethal violence but PG-friendly Looney Tunes moves in the single best action sequence of the film (even if “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” did it better).
“True Lies,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the “Mission Impossible” series with a dash of “Eyes Wide Shut”
Lifting DNA strands from much slicker and sexier cat-and-mouse glam thrillers, “Red Notice” attempts to stir up a crackling chemistry between Johnson and Gadot as the international lawman and his elusive prey, but it settles for mild innuendo rather than actual sensuality as they banter and tango their way through the plot. Masquerade parties, fight scenes in evening wear, high-tech spy doodads and a soft-talking bad guy named Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopolous) serve as faint echoes of the glitzy capers for grownups “Red Notice” is gesturing at throughout its 118-minute runtime.
Hear me out: What if “Skyscraper,” the 2018 high-rise action thriller that last paired writer-director Thurber with Johnson after they first worked together on “Central Intelligence,” is actually good? “Red Notice” makes that high-concept actioner — “The Towering Inferno” meets “Die Hard,” starring The Rock — look like a clever and original work of cinema filled with earned spectacle, believable characters and real stakes. Both feature Johnson making a dramatic running leap off a crane/mountain at great heights in order to land atop a burning building/hovering helicopter with superhuman precision, but only one mashes its various genre influences into satisfying popcorn fun.
“Last Night in Soho”
Just a few weeks ago in Edgar Wright’s time-jumping Swinging Sixties giallo “Last Night in Soho,” Anya Taylor-Joy turned Petula Clark’s “Downtown” into a haunting fever-dream lullaby. What were the odds that in “Red Notice,” Gadot would sing the same song … as a painfully literal reference as she masochistically tortures Johnson by electrocuting him in the, ahem, johnson?
“The Old Guard”
The mercenary action pic “Extraction” might be one of Netflix’s biggest self-reported original film hits, but director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Old Guard” is arguably its best. It’s also the last time the streamer launched a new studio-quality action franchise worth the investment. Made for a reported $70 million, it cost half the rumored price tag of “Red Notice,” which spent at least that much on the salaries of Johnson, Reynolds, Gadot and Thurber. Put your streaming power behind a more worthy picture and hit (re)play on this tonight.
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