Thurber’s script cribs from a compendium of cinematic references to assemble the movie’s Events
Everything about their meetings and interactions with Bishop, while avoiding a pursuing Interpol agent, Inspector Das (Ritu Arya), comes from a familiar visual language. A masquerade party finds Hartley and Bishop engaging in a tête-à-tête on the dance floor. Their bodies wrapped around each other, in the seductive motions of the tango, is meant to evoke the sensual power dynamics at the heart of True Lies. Between the Rock’s stiff muscular frame and Gadot’s stiffer face, it’s rendered as an asexual shadow of that film. Other references include The Third Man, Gladiator, Reservoir Dogs, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and so forth. Some of these odes are winking. Others are blasphemous inclusions in such a cinematically bankrupt film. Every reference only reminds savvy viewers what this movie isn’t.
On a craft level, nothing here has any spark. Cinematographer Markus Förderer (Independence Day: Resurgence) relies on widescreen, an aspect ratio that in theory befits a globetrotting heist flick. But Red Notice’s wide canvas is composed of cheap paint: The constant use of CGI backdrops results in vulgar brown-tinted lighting. The locations — Rome, Russia, London, Egypt, etc — are indistinguishable from each other. The compositions are equally unimaginative, leading to perplexing camera angles and nauseating camera movements during fights. The widescreen format is a tease that never translates to a bigger punch of action.
With Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds in the fold, along with Thurber’s comedy background — he directed Dodgeball and We’re the Millers — Red Notice’s comedic verve should be in the bag. But Reynolds falls into a familiar sarcastic persona, and Johnson and Gadot are poor partners for his improvisational antics. They just aren’t funny. Johnson can’t ping-pong Reynolds’ strained references to Instagram, iPhones, or deepfakes back to him. Gadot has zero comic timing. The height of Red Notice’s comedy is Johnson being rammed by a CGI bull in the middle of a coliseum, only because, by that point, we side with the bull.
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Neither the film, the script, nor the actors provide any reason to care about these characters or this plot. What does it matter if they attain all three eggs? The world isn’t on the verge of ending. No governments are being harmed. No one’s life is in danger. Instead, this film is merely an incoherent preamble, a jalopy star vehicle where quality is secondary to producing a franchise launching pad. The film eventually winds toward a legend involving Hitler’s art dealer, with a dreadfully shot car chase set underground, caked in hideous visual effects. The grand finale is so unlikely that the incomprehensible screenwriting logic necessary to sell it provides a coma-inducing whiplash.
Thurber wants to bank on the sex appeal of Red Notice’s central trio, but putting such uninteresting actors at the center of the story is a huge turnoff. The film is meant to look and feel immense, but Steve Jablonsky’s cheap score and the film’s over-reliance on visual effects makes the entire project look oh-so-tiny. The recent Army of Thieves and Red Notice both raise the question of whether the executives greenlighting these movies at Netflix have any idea what makes for engaging tentpole cinema, or what it takes to craft stories that stick in viewers’ hearts so they return again and again, no matter what iteration a story takes. What Red Notice does prove is that the streamer is very good at spending lots of money on fool’s gold, only for the short-term shine to flake away when each new project finally goes on display.