By John H. Foote
(***) Streaming on Netflix
Red Notice will not be nominated for any major Academy Awards, but still I had a hell of a good time watching the film. The three stars do what they do best. Dwayne Johnson is spectacular as an FBI agent travelling the world in hot pursuit of an international art thief, portrayed by a wise-cracking, charismatic Ryan Reynolds. Both are duped by the drop-dead gorgeous Gal Gadot as The Bishop, also an art thief who lands them both in a Russian prison where she pulls the strings. Get the idea? That is pretty much all you need to know to enjoy this fast-paced actioner.
But if you really want to enjoy it, start by placing your brain in the fridge. It’s OK, it will be there when you are finished and no worse for the wear. More importantly, you will not have to think one iota about this film, and frankly, you don’t need to. This is popcorn chompin’, hardass, kickass, dumbass fun.
I must start by saying these are not performances. They are akin to the sort Arnold Schwarzenegger used to give, a play on his persona and who he was in the media. No one is ever going to call Johnson a great actor, and I think he knows that. But he is a mighty fine movie star and has parlayed charisma times ten into a solid movie career. Reynolds does what Reynolds does best, which is to be the smartest person in the room and make everyone else look stupid. That is, until he runs into Gadot, who really is the smartest person in the room, and by far the most beautiful, and she has a lot of fun winking at the audience.
Safe to say, the fast-cut trailer tells you everything you need to know about the film and to its credit, the film delivers. We get a good supply of chases, narrow escapes, explosions, gun play, fighting, everything you would expect in an action thriller. But the film exists largely because of the plain old movie star charisma of its three leads who do everything expected of them with a wink and a smile.
The film begins in Rome, where Agent John Hartley (Johnson) has a tip that someone is going to steal one of the three eggs of Cleopatra, precious and valuable beyond belief and kept in a heavily guarded part of a Museum in Rome. Sure enough, the one on display is a fake and the thief, Nolan (Reynolds) is in the museum with the egg in his bag. After a shootout and crazy chase, he is soon on his way back to his home in Bali, where he is stunned to find Hartley waiting for him. But both men have been betrayed by The Bishop, a mysterious art thief no one knows. Sent to the toughest prison in Russia from which escape seems impossible, the two end up cell mates, where they agree to work with each other to get out, Hartley to clear his name and Nolan to continue stealing art. They meet The Bishop at the prison, where she makes clear, she is in charge of their fate and unless Nolan agrees to help her out, they are staying in the prison. But Nolan already has that worked out and they get clear of the Russian gulag, though the trust between them is virtually zero.
And so it goes with The Bishop always one step ahead of them, making fools of them, ripping through bad guys and exotic locales until the twist we expect coming finally comes. I have to say they had me, I guessed wrong.
Listen, this is not a great piece of cinema, it is essentially a comic book come to life: exciting, adventurous, goofy good fun. Despite countless gun battles, I do not recall anyone dying a gruesome death, it was like The Bugs Bunny/ Road Runner Hour—the bad guys get hurt, get up seconds later and are in hot pursuit again.
Johnson by now can do this kind of role in his sleep. He has proven to be a pretty good actor, wonderful as the gay actor in Be Cool (2005), the best performance in the film in fact, and I wish he would get more roles like this. He is terrific when having fun with his muscular good looks, and that Jack Nicholson smile. His previous film this year Jungle Cruise (2021) offered him his best role since Be Cool and he delivered the goods. This one felt like a step backwards, but with the charisma of the three leads, does it matter?
Ryan Reynolds has become the good-looking smart ass. The best quips in the film are saved for him. He double-crosses everyone in his path, so you just know his time is coming. He plays Deadpool without the costume.
And Gal Gadot. Is there a more striking woman in movies right now? Brilliant as Wonder Woman, the perfect choice. It is nice to see her step out of the hero zone and play a nasty bad guy here. And she has fun doing it. Clearly, they all do, but I think Gadot most of all. She tortures Johnson with a wink and a smile as she applies battery chargers to his, um, downtown region, enjoying what she is doing to him. Stunning. I cannot wait to see her as Cleopatra.
The film moves with incredible speed. Try not to think too much—you will enjoy it much more.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.