' ' Cinema Romantico: Red Notice

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Red Notice

Despite a marketing campaign that went heavy in promoting its three nominal movie stars – Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson, and Ryan Reynolds – Netflix’s “Red Notice” proves much more a product of its writer and director and co-producer, Rawson Marshall Thurber. “Red Notice” is moving at Ludicrous Speed, giving its stars little space to luxuriate within frames and moments, a movie in which reversals are the thing, over and over, as many as Thurber can dream up. And while there are moments when the screenplay threatens to become sentient, winking at us over this reversal bounty, it ultimately proves more like sleight of hand, Thurber seeking to distract for as long as he can until we realize nothing is there. Some might recognize the void sooner than others but it is undeniably laid bare by the biggest twist, one that makes no sense emotionally, finally leaving this $200 million Honda masquerading as an Acura to run out gas in the middle of the road. 

The plot turns on three bejeweled eggs given to Cleopatra two thousand years ago, one of which is still missing, sought by international art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) who is tracked by FBI profiler John Hartley (Johnson). Hartley, though, finds himself set up by the mysterious Bishop (Gadot), who wants the egg too, painting the profiler as a bad guy to put Interpol on his tail and force him to work with Booth to find the egg even as the Bishop keeps playing puppet-master. This engenders a great number of action scenes, none of which I could honestly recall a couple weeks after I had seen it, underlining their mere serviceableness, and innumerable location changes, from Rome to Bali to Russia to Argentina to Paris. Thurber, though, has copped to how the stars never really left the Atlanta shooting set (in fairness, due to the Pandemic), which the movie’s inherent lifelessness belies. Say what you will of “The Tourist”, feel free, but the first ten minutes in which Angelina Jolie is just walking – striding – around Venice – actual Venice – is more thrilling than anything in “Red Notice.” Indeed, there’s a ostensible throwaway moment when Booth returns to his beachside home after evading the authorities in Italy to find a decanter and a single [underline] tumbler just sitting there on the counter, waiting for him to pour a drink. Offer any fan theory you want about this oddly convenient tumbler (please don’t), but what the moment really does is betray the overall model home sensation of “Red Notice.” 

If Gadot had been born into a different era, say the Golden Age of movies, someone like Irving Thalberg would have seized on that incredible guilelessness she evinced with such charismatic ease in the first “Wonder Woman” and sculpted her ensuing movie loglines around it. As it is, we have her in “Red Notice” instead, struggling to play cunning never mind playfully lascivious. “Ta ta,” she says at one point by way of an exit and the “ta ta” just sounds so stilted, summarizing the entire turn. Reynolds and Johnson fare a little better, at least in one another’s company, suggesting “Red Notice” might have worked better as a buddy comedy than a trinity of peers. “You’re like a well-dressed wall,” Booth says of Hartley, referring to the imposing physicality of Johnson playing the part (he’s The Rock, after all) but it may as well be in metaphorical terms too. Johnson is made to just have Reynolds unceasing bevy of one-liners bounce right off, all irritated asides and weary side-eyes. Of course, this means it is very much a Your Mileage May Very situation. Reynolds talks as fast as the helicopter machine gun mans at one point fires, and if you don’t find his patter charming, it becomes exhausting really quick. And that is to say nothing of the would-be subplot involving never earning his father’s love, epitomizing how Reynolds, like his co-stars, brings absolutely no interior life to the role whatsoever. This is all emotional green screen. 

Johnson, however, has better chemistry with Reynolds than he does with Gadot, which is important because the big twist seeking to tie the whole room together is that Hartley is working with Bishop. (Spoiler alert.) And sure, ok, fine, whatever. But. If you thought Johnson and Emily Blunt in “Jungle Cruise” generated no heat, my God, Johnson and Gadot make Hallmark Movie couples look lewd, their mid-movie tango like a stove burner that just keeps clicking. It’s funny, throughout “Red Notice”, Booth is constantly getting meta, talking about how this or that is “foreshadowing” something, even dropping the term “MacGuffin”, as if we have suddenly wound up in a less witty “Adaptation.” You half-wonder if Reynolds improvised these moments because if “Red Notice” wants to get meta about itself, it only skims the surface, never seeking to become a spoof of the myriad movies it references. It’s no “Naked Gun 2 ½”, is what I mean, which is what I was thinking of, honestly, when Johnson and Gadot were tangoing, that comical dance scene between Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley (and Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley’s dance doubles). Nothing in “Red Notice” is as funny as that scene and nothing in “Red Notice” – God help me, I can’t believe I’m saying this – is as sexy as that scene. 

Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley, sexier than Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot. Strange days, these.

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