Red Notice (M, 117mins) Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber ***½
It’s billed as the most expensive Netflix movie in the company’s history, yet it feels like a throwback to big-screen blockbusters from at least a generation ago.
A globetrotting action comedy, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s stunt, slapstick and sassy one-liner-filled tale is most definitely a slice of weekend night, big-screen entertainment, one that’s easy on the eye – and the engagement factor (as long as you don’t think about the plot machinations too much).
If the film-maker’s last collaboration with man-mountain Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson – Skyscraper – was a modern-day riff on Die Hard, then this is their Hudson Haw…sorry Bandits. Actually, it feels more like a cross between The Jewel of the Nile, Assassins and the National Treasure movies, with hints of Entrapment and Smokin’ Aces, as each of the three highly paid stars – Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, and Canadian wise-cracker Ryan Reynolds being the other points of the film’s triple-crossing triumvirate – attempts to earn their keep.
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In a story that takes in exotic locations such as Rome, Bali, Valencia, Cairo, Argentina and London (American state Georgia standing in for many of them), we’re essentially witnessing a race to secure Cleopatra’s three bejewelled eggs, desperately wanted (in a will-pay-unfeasibly-large-sums-of-money way) as a wedding gift by an Egyptian billionaire for his daughter.
There’s just one problem, while two eggs, unearthed in 1907, are in the hands of a Rome museum and a private collector respectively, no one has seen the third in centuries.
When we join the action, FBI Special Agent John Hartley (Johnson), a profiler who specialises in art heists, has received credible information that the museum’s egg is going to be stolen that day. “In fact, it may already be gone,” he says, while stunning a crowd of onlookers by dissolving what is supposed to be the near-priceless object with a can of cola.
Fortunately, the world’s second-greatest art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) hasn’t quite left the building and “a fun foot chase, with lots of twists and turns” (the first of Booth’s many almost fourth-wall-breaking observations throughout the two-hour running time) ensues, one that only ends when Hartley’s attempt to commandeer a Porsche Taycan is halted by him being sideswiped by a gelato van.
However, just as Booth arrives at his South East Asian hidey-hole 36 hours later, he’s surprised and dismayed to find not only Hartley, but Interpol waiting for him. But if Hartley was expecting this to be a simple arrest and the end of the case, he hasn’t factored in the interest in proceedings from the woman keeping Booth out of the art-thievery top-spot – the mysterious and nefarious The Bishop (Gadot).
What follows is a series of mostly well-executed set-pieces, spectacular stunts, multiple multi-faceted escape and heist plans (some a touch too over-elaborate), a few half-assed attempts at character backstories, a parade of head-turning costumes (sported by both Gadot and Johnson) and more than a few moments where you’ll be yelling, “Oh, come on!” at the screen.
It’s an outing in which Johnson hardly break a sweat, or his usual protagonist mould, Gadot looks to be having enormous fun and Reynolds simply doesn’t stop talking. Clearly given licence to riff, even the most ardent Deadpool fan my find his shtick a little much by the end.
Amongst the scattershot approach to verbal comedy, he definitely scores some hits though, hilariously confusing the Attenborough brothers at a vital moment (there are also shout outs to Pulp Fiction and Raiders of the Lost Ark), suggesting they look for “a box marked MacGuffin” when searching for one of the eggs, showing appreciation “for a quality double-cross” and teasing the existence of a Vin Diesel Cats’ audition tape.
Backed by a bombastic score and constantly on the move cameras, subtle Red Notice is not. But in a flick that has a bad guy named Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), Johnson paying homage to his infamous ‘90s turtleneck and where “pawns” are threatened with having their internet browser history exposed, what can you really expect?
Red Notice is now screening in select cinemas, before debuting on Netflix on November 12.