Starpower of ‘Red Notice’ isn’t enough to make it a decent film

Written By Amanda Andrews, Editor-in-Chief

1 Globe

Last week, Netflix’s “Red Notice” made national headlines after becoming the most-watched original film on the streaming platform. It was good news for the streaming service that has been seeking to catch up with competitors like Disney+ and HBO Max, and seemingly the sign of a successful movie. However, as many critics have pointed out, even though “Red Notice” drew in viewers and is a financial success for the company, the end product itself can hardly be called a cinematic triumph.

The main appeal and likely what had many people tune in is the film’s star-studded cast. Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are the main characters in this action-packed art heist story, and name recognition alone was sure to glue eyeballs to screens.

The movie begins with an exposition dump of the (entirely historically inaccurate) tale of how Mark Antony gave Egyptian ruler Cleopatra three golden eggs that, over time, have been scattered all over the world. The main plot starts at an art gallery in Rome showcasing one of the eggs, where stoic Agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) has tracked down the constantly-quipping art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) who is there to steal the artifact. Although Hartley manages to get Booth behind bars, his art thief informant, the Bishop (Gal Gadot), frames him, and he ends up in prison alongside Booth. The two make a pact to find the remaining eggs and put the Bishop to justice so that Hartley can clear his name and Booth can become the world’s best art thief again. All the while, Interpol Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) pursues all three of them across the globe. From there, hijinks ensue.

I didn’t expect going into this that “Red Notice” would be a timeless masterpiece by any means – it’s a comedic action movie and accurately billed itself as such in its advertisements. Still, I was genuinely surprised at the sloppiness of the overall production, at least compared to others in the same genre. And the problems were not exclusive to any one area.

First of all, special effects are usually not a make-or-break deal for me, but some of these action sequences are legitimately laughable because of shoddy visuals. The most notable example of this is when a bull charges and attacks Hartley in a bull-fighting arena. The CGI in that scene is so obviously poorly rendered to the point it can be hard to even watch.

You may be confused as to why there is even a scene with a bull in a heist movie, which brings me to my second point: the writing. Scripts for action movies are typically not seeking to win big awards, but they should, at the very least, set up a logical, engaging plotline with compelling characters so the audience won’t turn the movie off after half an hour or not know what is going on and why. In “Red Notice,” the eggs are quite literally plot devices arbitrarily moving the characters from country to country. Perhaps, if the thieves had some kind of personal stake in retrieving the eggs, there’d be something to keep the viewers invested, but both Booth and Bishop admit they are in it for the fame and money they’ll get once they sell the artifacts to a buyer. So, if they don’t really care about the eggs, why should we? Instead, the plot of “Red Notice” relies on its scenic locations and its actors to carry viewers through the movie’s runtime.

Unfortunately, this star-power strategy doesn’t pay off. On paper, Gal Gadot being the main villainess sounds amazing, but when her character is reduced to a smirking femme fatale with a Type A personality and an insane hacking ability, there isn’t much to dig into. And she’s not the only character who’s a victim of underbaked development.

Hartley is every serious character Dwayne Johnson has ever played in an action film, and you barely learn anything about him the whole time. Reynolds’ Booth is the polar opposite, but it’s typical Ryan Reynolds fare where he’s the designated funny man meant to incite all the laughs. I have enjoyed Reynold’s roles in other movies, but the constant jokes in “Red Notice” make the character more annoying than endearing, especially since his inability to shut up actually puts them in multiple dangerous situations for no reason. Simply put, Hartley says too little, and Booth way too much.

That said, by far the biggest problem with this movie is its absurd amount of pop culture references. And I mean absurd. Absurd as the Bishop watching “The Great British Bake Off” and Paul Hollywood’s face being on her TV screen as she hacks into a government database. And that really is just the tip of the iceberg, with an Ed Sheeran cameo (where he actually plays himself) that is almost too cringeworthy to mention but nearly made me give up on trying to finish the movie for this review. All of this happens while Ryan Reynolds attempts to cram in every culturally relevant reference possible the whole time while still trying to be funny (spoiler alert: this does not work).

This is hardly an issue exclusive to “Red Notice.” Since 2010, a number of mainstream movies have beat their audience over the head with their “awareness” of other media properties, and it has been nauseating. It was funny when Robin Williams did it back in 1992 in Disney’s “Aladdin,” (a film that is problematic for a number of culturally insensitive reasons), but we need to accept no one could do it as well as him and we shouldn’t keep trying to replicate it.

All criticism aside, “Red Notice” has one major thing going for it: its twist ending. I honestly did not see it coming, and it was so well-executed, but it’s almost deployed too late, falling 15 minutes before the end.

“Red Notice” left critics disappointed, but it’s a passable movie to put on in the background or for not wanting to think too carefully. But if you’re looking for a quality action, art-heist movie, instead of listening to Ryan Reynolds’ character hum “The Raiders’ March” from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” just watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”