Ryan Reynolds has been coasting on his Handsome Guy Who Is Game For Jokes persona for the better part of a decade now, enthusiastically auditioning for comedic material that someone may still write him someday. How much longer should we wait? The man is done proving himself with joke-like asides.
Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a potential action hero in much the same way. His meathead charisma is undeniable. Carrying an action movie seems like something he might be able to do, but mostly so far he has shined in supporting roles (Furious 7) or as the best part of bad movies (most of the other ones). Then there’s Gal Gadot, who looks so much like a superhero that people just sort of expect her to become one by default. Yet she remains sort of an enigma, lacking the ability to carry a role on strength of personality alone like Jason Momoa (which is a skill perhaps unique to Jason Momoa).
Red Notice, from Easy A and Dodgeball director Rawson Marshall Thurber, combines all the potentialities of these actors’ respective personae, in a film that mostly still feels like a trial run for some future film that might be better.
Johnson plays John Hartley, who describes himself as “an FBI profiler specializing in art crime.” It’s the best joke in the whole movie. “You don’t look much like a profiler,” his interpol partner played by Rita Arya tells him. “People are always saying that,” says The Rock.
Ha ha ha, it’s funny because it’s true! He is not an FBI profiler, he is world-famous former pro wrestling personality turned actor The Rock!
Johnson and Inspector Das are in Rome trying to stop a theft-in-progress on a hot tip from a mysterious art figure known as “The Bishop.” The thief turns out to be Nolan Booth (Reynolds), who is trying to steal one of Cleopatra’s jeweled eggs. An Egyptian billionaire has promised $300 million to anyone who can bring him all three of these ancient encrustable eggs in time for his daughter’s wedding. Booth is one of the art thieves looking to collect, the other is The Bishop, played by Gal Godot, a much cooler and more badass art thief who’s always beating Booth to the punch.
Parkour, fistfights, computer hacking, and fancy cocktail parties ensue, in a script that seems mostly driven by whatever cursory nonsense will get Reynolds, Gadot, and The Rock in a room together in some exotic world locale. Is there a rule that every blockbuster now has to have at least six title cards and establishing drone shots of various skylines? Rome, Bali, Russia, London, Valencia, Argentina, Cairo, Sardinia… I hope some of these settings provided tax credits because they’re not adding much by way of content.
Mostly Red Notice makes you appreciate how much work the Indiana Jones movies did to make us care about the macguffins and get us invested in the search to find them. That we knew why the bad guy wanted the Ark of the Covenant, what he wanted do with it, and why Indiana Jones wanted it instead, in retrospect seem like important factors. Who is this Egyptian billionaire? Don’t know. Why does he want Cleopatra’s eggs? To give to his daughter, I guess. Who is his daughter? Don’t know. What do the eggs do? Nothing. Why do the Bishop and Nolan Booth want the eggs? Money. And what will they do with the eggs? Uh… get the money, of course.
These are answers, just not interesting answers. What even drives these characters? Why do they do what they do? A line like “IT BELONGS IN MUSEUM!” would’ve done wonders here. Instead the plot feels about as inspired as a late homework assignment. It has some twists, but mostly they’re just reversals of earlier choices that felt like excuses to begin with.
Presumably, the goal here was to get The Rock and Ryan Reynolds together in a buddy comedy, which the filmmakers assumed would be such a crowd-pleasing spectacle that we wouldn’t bother too much about the details. The Rock plays the muscular Danny Glover and Ryan Reynolds the redditor Riggs in this Lethal Weapon scenario, Reynolds constantly flirting while The Rock rolls his eyes. That’s all well and good, sort of, but Riggs and Murtaugh actually had a narrative reason to be together, beyond some pitchman hoping that a movie might magically break out if they were. Mostly it doesn’t. Red Notice is content to merely mimic the rhythms and pacing of a fun movie the same way Ryan Reynolds has become adept at delivering lines that have the tone and cadence of jokes.
Red Notice feels like the logical endpoint of an entertainment ecosystem that values the elevator pitch above all else and of a wishful-thinking-based economy in general. Ryan Reynolds? Sure, he seems like he could be funny! The Rock? Absolutely, he just screams action star! Gal Gadot? Well obviously, she’s a knockout! Step four was “???” and step five was Red Notice.