Travis Leamons // Film Critic
Rated PG-13, 117 minutes.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot
Seeing a call sheet with the names Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot listed, a filmmaker might think he was an NBA general manager with a Big 3 for his starting line-up. And you would be right. All three warrant attention, though for Reynolds and Gadot being stars for superhero properties (DEADPOOL and WONDER WOMAN) helped raise their casting stock immensely. Pair them with Dwayne Johnson and the money prints itself. Well, it would if RED NOTICE was distributed by a major studio and playing on thousands of screens. Instead, Universal’s loss is Netflix’s gain as the company has backed a $160 million movie for its streaming platform.
Martin Scorsese has Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Tim Burton has Johnny Depp. Rawson Marshall Thurber has Dwayne Johnson. The duo previously teamed to make CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE and SKYSCRAPER. Neither really worked for me. Not like Thurber’s debut, DODGEBALL, which I feel is the most complete of the “Frat Pack” comedies produced from the late 1990s to mid-2000s.
The third time is the charm with RED NOTICE. The short version is that Johnson plays FBI Special Agent John Hartley. His background is behavioral analysis, and he specializes in profiling art thieves. (And here I thought all FBI agents looked like Mulder and Scully on THE X-FILES.) He’s on the trail of one of the second-best thieves on the planet, Nolan Booth (Reynolds), who is set to fleece one of Cleopatra’s fabled golden eggs on display at a Rome museum. Hartley’s pursuit of Booth gets foiled, but he knows his next move. As does The Bishop, the greatest art thief whose identity is unknown – until it is quickly revealed to keep things moving. I’ll give you a hint: she’s quite a gal.
With a few keystrokes and a money transfer to a bank account, Hartley is implicated alongside Booth, and they both get tossed into a Russian gulag. Two birds, one egg, all thanks to The Bishop. Hartley and Booth aren’t BFFs but have to become unlikely allies if they are to execute a prison escape and follow the trail of the missing eggs. Johnson and Reynolds are no strangers to prison escapes (see THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS and DEADPOOL 2) or being saddled with someone they don’t particularly like (again, those two movies). But they make an indomitable pairing fueled by testosterone and wisecracks. Both play according to type, which will make fans happy, and the story coasts on their charisma alone.
Now about those eggs. There are three in total. The one Nolan steals, another owned by an arms dealer, and the last has been lost for centuries. The eggs are ornate but not special. They don’t unlock ancient mysteries or become magical when linked together. The eggs are McGuffins used to draw Johnson to Reynolds and them to The Bishop aka Sarah Black (Gadot). She wants those eggs as much as Veruca wanted a golden goose, only without all the hysterical screaming and petulant pouting. And who can blame her? The eggs look as if they were endorsed by Cary Grant on behalf of Faberge.
Dwayne Johnson has always been a consummate professional. He’s like Tom Cruise. Not physically – that’s absurd. More like projects. Once both became established, neither has strayed far from the types of roles or material. Since playing Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds has been cast primarily as the try-too-hard smart-ass, playing for laughs even as an alpha male. It’s one thing when it is Kevin Hart opposite The Rock, but Reynolds ping-pongs jokes to a point I thought Johnson was going to cock an eyebrow and start throwing punches.
The biggest wild card is Gal Gadot. Her casting as Wonder Woman was a bit of a shock, but she more than proved her worth. Her turn to villainy here is a nice departure, and she’s totally having fun as a rival who can physically best Booth and take Hartley off his game.
RED NOTICE doesn’t break new ground when it comes to the action-comedy or caper movie. The story is simple to follow and has only a few expositional dumps to expand Hatley and Booth’s histories as cop and criminal. It’s total fan service and silly with set pieces inspired by everything from Jackie Chan and ARMOUR OF GOD to Indiana Jones and THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot may not always play fair, but it’s all in good fun.
RED NOTICE is playing in limited release before streaming exclusively on Netflix beginning November 12.