With a rumored price tag of $160 to $200 million, Red Notice has been touted as Netflix’s most expensive film yet. Given that the Internet is a den of slippery statistics, perhaps that designation depends on where you land for The Irishman’s “$159 to $250 million” estimates.
In Notice — which hits select theaters today and the streaming service worldwide on Nov. 12 — the gap between gold and silver means a great deal to two notorious art thieves. Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) is a wiseacre wanted in 18 countries, who has lips as fast as his feet and fingers and is one prison break away from getting “a Shawshank jacket.” His chief competition, the Bishop (Gal Gadot), is a mysterious wild-card so wily that the art cognoscenti speak of her only in hushed tones lest she be listening to them and jotting down new names on her dance card of deception. On defense against Booth and the Bishop’s press to be the best? John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), a determined FBI behavioral analyst with, ahem, a specialty in art crime.
How much Notice costs would hardly matter if it didn’t play like a gargantuan doohickey of digitally shiny nothingness. It’s got all the grit of a first-class cleanroom. Whatever the final bill turned out to be, Netflix certainly overpaid for this underwhelming action-adventure — one that collapses its stars’ considerable charisma into a nine-figure experiment in re-targeting viewers’ recollections of nearly every other popular movie these folks have made in the past decade or so.
Reynolds as a crying-on-the-inside kind of goofus who has daddy issues and finds himself paired with a bald man that mercilessly hectors him at every turn? Johnson as the bull-headed lawman forging a tentative alliance with his nemesis, alongside whom he must break out of prison before a globe-trotting adventure that ultimately leads deep into a jungle? Gadot emerging from shadows to school two squabbling silly-heads with some power moves of her own?
It’s not just the narrative momentum, such as anything in Notice constitutes momentum; specific shots resemble those past hits, pixel for pricey pixel. Not for nothing does Rawson Marshall Thurber’s producer credit appear as an on-screen wipe timed with paint sprayed over a 3D-printed forgery. Even the many establishing shots for Notice’s luxurious travel itinerary feel like screensavers. Sure, bemoaning the death of awe-inspiring spectacle at the hands of software patches is an old-hat gripe. But there is so much digital trickery on display here that the most palpable source of surprise is determining whether Johnson, Reynolds and Gadot were ever actually all in one room together. (Sticking to Notice’s fascination with rank: Second place for surprises goes to whether those bottles of booze are Reynolds’ Aviation gin and/or Johnson’s Teremana tequila.) Thurber also wrote and directed Notice, which ends his sporadic but effective run of uncomplicated outings from conceptual comedies like Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story or We’re the Millers to credible Die Hard knockoffs like 2019’s Skyscraper, which also starred Johnson. Oh yeah, Skyscraper: Johnson makes several Super Mario leaps from precarious high spots to save his bacon here, too.
Between Notice and the similarly digital phoniness and greatest-hits grab-bag of Jungle Cruise, aka Das Butt, 2021 has been a disappointing year on land, water and air for Johnson. Still, Notice knows you want to see Reynolds yack-yack, Johnson clap back and Gadot cut no slack for either one. So how purposeless is the plot to prop up all these personae? At one point, Booth tells Hartley to “look for the box that says MacGuffin.” It concerns a hunt for Cleopatra’s bejeweled eggs, since lost to museums, vicious crime lords like Sotto Voce (an unbelievably ripped and vocally amusing Chris Diamantopoulos) or … well, just plain lost.
An unscrupulous businessman wants all three eggs as a wedding gift for his daughter and will pay obscenely. So Booth and the Bishop take the challenge, with Hartley hot on their heels. Booth claims to know the location of that vaunted, vanished third egg. But the Bishop takes pole position after she rats out Booth and convinces Hartley’s colleagues that he’s in on the heist. Thus, the latter two team up for a Brahma-clown affair that spans from snowy Russian mountaintops to Argentinian wilds.
Every so often, the Bishop conveniently turns up inside a vault, room or bunker Booth and Hartley have expended copious sweat equity to get inside. She always offers a dwindling cut of the deal if only they’ll collaborate with her … while flirtatiously needling Hartley and his insistence that all of this will only end with her in handcuffs. As my colleague Evan Dossey correctly noted in his Jungle Cruise assessment, Johnson lacks sexual chemistry with anyone. At least Thurber and company try to work around that; all those flashes of fingers grazing thighs and legs on the dance floor are cutaways that could just as easily be different people and likely are. If you’re wondering what the title means, well, it’s the term for Interpol’s highest-level warrant, reserved for its most wanted criminals. Yes, Reynolds’s character wound up on red notice in Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, too.
Notice is Thurber’s third go-round with Johnson. Some early bits that take the piss out of Johnson’s usually imposing prowess suggest a promising familiarity between them and a better movie than what transpires — like the hard stop on a Porsche chase for which Thurber does a good job revving you up or, later, a prison fistfight that ends in about the last way you’d think. Shamelessly derivative of The Fate of the Furious as it is, the escape from that prison is the only sequence that accumulates any real energy of its own here. As for Reynolds, Thurber just lets him rip with all of his inscrutable, incongruous quirks (e.g., juicebox-chugging) and slam-bam hyper-vocalics; a little crack about magnets may make you switch over to 6 Underground, Netflix’s truly impressive expensive action spectacle starring Ryan Reynolds. Apart from a goofy aside about confusing the Attenborough brothers, the most memorable thing in Red Notice is its unexpected climactic cameo from a popular singer. Considering that’s the best gag in a movie boasting such premium-priced players as Johnson, Reynolds and Gadot, well … now that is a specialty in art crime.