Don’t feel bad for thinking you’ve seen Red Notice already. Hollywood churns out comedy-action hybrids of this ilk on a regular basis, oftentimes starring the three photogenic leads of this new Rawson Marshall Thurber film. Even the most discerning audience members can struggle to separate their Hitman’s Bodyguard films from their Central Intelligence, or their Keeping Up With the Joneses from the San Andreas. And don’t even get me started on the Fast & Furious spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw, which featured a Ryan Reynolds cameo in a Dwayne Johnson action joint. Worlds, colliding.
Slick and nimble Red Notice is the best version of those types of movies. Thurber wrote a globetrotting cops-and-robbers adventure that’s clever, sarcastic, and in-tune with his stylish direction, amplifying each joke to get their maximum effect. This movie is just legitimately cool. And when you see how cool it is, you recognize how many imitators try to capture the essence of all the things Red Notice is peddling, but fall woefully short.
Red Notice plays like a good Michael Bay movie. (No, that’s not an oxymoron.) The story roars to life from its opening scenes, with Special Agent John Hartley (The Rock) racing to the scene of a possible crime where he hopes to prevent the world’s second-best art thief, Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) from obtaining an encrusted and highly lucrative Egg. There’s a nonsense back story involving Cleopatra, and the valuable heirloom given to her by Antony on their wedding day. It hardly matters, so long as the quest for the Egg keeps this bouncy story in perpetual motion. Thurber even writes in a sharp joke about the Egg being a MacGuffin, because Red Notice is keenly aware of its goals and expectations.
Red Notice amps up its star power a few more degree when it factors in a third leg of the charisma triangle. Gal Gadot, looking radiant as she tightens up her comedic timing, joins the fun as a mysterious thief known only as “The Bishop.” She, too, wants to abscond the Egg in question, and often finds herself both two steps ahead of Hartley and Booth, and two steps behind -- depending on where the script needs her to be.
By now, you know Ryan Reynolds’ shtick. Whether he’s wearing his Deadpool costume, trying to stay alive alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek, or selling us Mint Mobile subscription plans, Reynolds has mastered his specific delivery. And when he clicks with the right on-screen partner, magic happens. The Rock becomes one of those partners in Red Notice, a sometimes stoic but equally fearless joke-spitter who -- like Reynolds -- knows exactly what he brings to a scene, and brings the best version of that every single time.
Even better, Rawson Marshall Thurber (as the writer and director) designs massive action set pieces for Red Notice that play directly into the types of personalities these three have refined over the course of their careers. The Rock sprints across a rope bridge that gets hit by a missile, sending him several feet into the air like a Looney Tunes character. Reynolds tries to break the glass on a weapons display, and fails, damaging his elbow. And Gadot, a veteran of DC Comics movies, is very much at home in all of the full-contact fight scenes that punctuate the extremely funny dialogue and surprising amounts of character development.
Red Notice ends up being far more fun and exciting than you might expect heading into it. It likely will generate the kind of passionate commitment that fans have to another stone-cold Rock classic, The Rundown, which is a gem in this genre. Red Notice would actually be a stone-cold classic if, like Steven Spielberg in his Indiana Jones days (a franchise Red Notice clearly adores), it went the extra mile to pull off its daring stunts practically instead of relying on inadequate green screen work in two or three of its most dramatic sequences. The fights are seamless. The chases are breakneck. But there are too many sequences where dodgy green-screen work (the bullfight…) distracts from the otherwise expertly choreographed action set pieces.
Thurber’s screenplay also suffers ever so slightly on an over-reliance on its empty MacGuffin, the three valuable “Eggs” that need to be stolen in order for our gorgeous leads to infiltrate… something or other. Poking fun at the predictability of the script helps reduce the sting, but Red Notice still relies on such cliche sequences as a prison fight, a sadistic torture scene, surprise backstabbing. The list goes on. Each one comes with a twist that keeps things interesting, and like I said, wildly entertaining. So Red Notice is’t perfect. But it gets a greenlight from me.