Credit: Frank Masi/Netflix
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Streaming Scene

Red Notice | Rawson Marshall Thurber

November 12, 2021

Red Notice is as close to an algorithm-written film as the world has yet had the displeasure of viewing.

A few years back, there was a recurring social media meme about plugging a bunch of scripts for movies from whatever given genre into an AI and having it spit out an “original” script. Reality now intrudes on the joke. There has possibly never been a more appropriate Netflix movie than Red Notice. It’s an action-comedy that cost hundreds of millions of dollars yet will barely play in theaters, features internationally famous movie stars simply playing to their established personas, and is seemingly written by an algorithm. It’s one of the most insufferable and empty things you could ever hope to avoid.

A clumsy opening sequence explains that Cleopatra had three bejeweled eggs, only two of which have been discovered. Obviously, this makes the third egg a highly coveted artifact. Cut to the present, where Dwayne Johnson stars as FBI agent John Hartley, who is allegedly the world’s greatest psychological profiler… of art thieves (we’ll assume that’s actually a thing so we can move on). He catches master thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) in the act of trying to steal one of the eggs, but in the process, winds up in a buddy movie with him as they race to stop another master thief, known only as The Bishop (Gal Gadot). Hijinks ensue as these three barely articulated “characters” careen off each other in a global hunt to get all three eggs together and sell them to the highest bidder.

Obviously, something like this owes a debt to films like the Indiana Joneses (although a somewhat lower bar like the National Treasures might be more appropriate). But those movies at least featured some intricacy of narrative and characters with a relative amount of interiority. Here, the operating thesis seems to be that if you plunk two or three of the leads down on a set or in front of a green screen and merely let them do their shtick and be thoroughly on-brand, then voila, you’ve got yourself a real movie. Unfortunately, the entire affair radiates flop sweat. Johnson has never been this uncharismatic, and he’s been allowed to fall into all of his usual traps (the eyebrow thing, the biggest-guy-in-the-room cocky swagger, etc.). As for Reynolds, virtually every single line of dialogue he has in the film is a vaguely improvised gag, and even when one occasionally lands, the overall effect is just wearying. Gadot is asked to do very little but be icy and to appear suddenly to one-up the two guys while delivering some handy exposition. None of them have a character to play.

Also characterless is director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s work behind the camera. This is his third film with Johnson, which might suggest that the star trusts this particular director with taking some dictation. In any case, it’s relatively competent carpentry, with the usual pre-vized, green-screened, heavily-VFXed action scenes, some generic shootouts, and a pretty decent car chase. When stuff’s not blowing up or getting shot at, there’s little to look at besides endless discussion of the plot (at least until a couple of obligatory plot twists arrive). As with the most recent works of both Johnson and Reynolds (Jungle Cruise and Free Guy, respectively), there’s absolutely nothing here but a sort of thin gruel, despite nearly every available ingredient going into the recipe.

You can currently Marshal Rawson Thurber’s Red Notice on Netflix.