If there’s one thing you know about a Dwayne Johnson film, it’s that it’s going to be big. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
It could be big, silly and fun, like his adventures in “Jungle Cruise” or “Jumanji,” or it could be big, serious and explosive, like any number of his appearances in The Fast Saga. It could also be big, comedic and secretly tender, like “Moana” or even “Central Intelligence.”
As the proud owner of a coffee cup plastered with The Rock’s toothy smile and a loyal supporter of People Magazine’s 2016 Sexiest Man Alive, it pains me to say that his latest adventure falls into the worst and final category of Dwayne Johnson films. The globetrotting crime-thriller “Red Notice” is undoubtedly big, but it’s also unnecessarily messy, painfully unfunny and, well, just plain dumb.
Starting off with an exposition dump worthy of a History Channel documentary, it’s revealed that back in Ancient Egypt, the queen Cleopatra possessed three bejeweled eggs renowned for their beauty. While two of the eggs were recovered – one housed in an Italian art museum and the other by a private collector – the third was never found.
Enter, world-class art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds). With a Middle Eastern warlord offering a pretty penny for all three eggs, Booth is out to earn his keep – and beat out The Bishop (Gal Gadot) for the title world’ greatest art thief. But Special Agent John Hartley (Johnson) of the FBI has other plans, that is, until he’s framed for stealing an egg and forced to team up with the wisecracking Booth in order to stop The Bishop.
What ensues is an attempt to create a buddy cop dynamic as the two opposites must learn to work together, not matter how annoying the other is – something Johnson has already done far better in “Hobbs & Shaw.” Instead, the flimsy, contrived excuse for a story seems more like a free pass for Netflix to take three pretty faces around the world to show them off and do little else.
With the exception of “Moana,” no Johnson film is expected to be a prestige picture, nor was that the anticipation for “Red Notice.” No one goes into a Rock flick to find a masterclass in cinema, instead they want his tried-and-true formula to which the audiences’ mileage will vary depending on the subject matter. The requirements for these movies are simple: a plot worth following, fiery explosions and flashy stunts, and a few one-liners to lighten the mood, but “Red Notice” manages to strikeout on all three.
Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber is no stranger to Johnson’s style, considering he’s helmed two successful Rock projects in “Skyscraper” and “Central Intelligence.” That background, combined with his previous comedic exploits leading “We’re the Millers” and “Dodgeball,” make it all the more confusing as to how “Red Notice” could miss the mark so badly.
It turns out that in the world of international espionage and crime, there are as many twists, turns and double crosses as there were locations in this film. And that’s saying something, considering an overwhelming slew of intertitles jerks “Red Notice” from Rome to Bali, back to Rome, over to Russia, with stops in Valencia, Argentina, Egypt, Sardinia and Paris along the way. As the story progress, and particularly during its final act, there seems to be a revolving door of twists and reveals, so much so that any and all subsequent “endings” lose their potency. By the fifth, sixth and seventh fake out, any investment that once existed in this story has been replaced by pure exhaustion.
Speaking of exhaustion, the ceaseless quips from Reynolds are draining. Johnson’s style of comedy can be cringey at times, but for the most part his zingers are potent, badass and funny. Here, Johnson has been reduced to childish bickering with Reynolds, who is once again doing the same shtick he’s pulled since 2016’s “Deadpool.” It was funny once, but turning every single character into the Merc with a Mouth is tiresome – yet Reynolds doesn’t appear to be changing course any time soon.
Just when it seems the comedy in “Red Notice” couldn’t get more laughable – or should I say unlaughable – a last-minute cameo by none other than pop star Ed Sheeran sinks this movie to a new low. The sheer randomness of it all results in more confusion than humor.
When it comes to the action in “Red Notice,” it’s hit or miss. The first major set piece – a chase through an art museum – the editing is near whiplash-inducing. Rapid cuts every half second make it impossible to follow the stunts and hand-to-hand combat. Things get marginally better as the film goes on with an enjoyable breakout set piece along with a slick heist sequence, but the visual effects across the board are laughable. For a project dubbed as Netflix’s greatest investment in film so far, the budget was clearly spent on three high-profile stars and flashy locations rather than semi-believable green screen work.
With three of the most recognizable faces in pop culture gracing the title card on the biggest streaming service in the world, “Red Notice” is all but guaranteed to still be a hit, despite its lackluster quality. As a result, it’s no surprise that the film’s final minutes are spent with one final twist used to set up the impending sequel.
As badly as I wanted to love “Red Notice” – or at least be able to look past its flaws to enjoy a big, dumb popcorn movie – that’s not even close to possible here. But I’ll still pour my coffee all the same tomorrow morning.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.