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Red Notice Review: The Con Is On

Red Notice Review: The Con Is On

For decades in Hollywood, movies have come along every now and again that seem to exist solely for the poster pairing a couple of huge Hollywood heavyweights together, stars that wouldn’t normally appear opposite someone of equal A-list status, blowing your mind with the concept of them coming together in the same project. Films like “The Mexican” (Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts), “The Tourist” (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie), “Knight and Day” (Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz), or “The Devil’s Own” (Harrison Ford and Pitt); the tradition goes back through 1984’s “City Heat” (Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood), 1972’s “Pocket Money” (Paul Newman, James Coburn) and beyond. All these movies were marketed with posters that featured the stars prominently and little about the plot; they relied on star wattage, along with the hope audiences wouldn’t ask for their money back.

How could those stars have picked such a bad script? How could actors who’ve made so many of my favorite movies choose to make that dud? These are the questions you’d be asking yourself as you left the theater, your ticket money now securely in someone else’s pocket.

These days, we’re in the age of digital streaming, and you’re already paying a certain amount each month for unlimited access to movies and shows both old and new. Which is why it’s interesting that Netflix’s “Red Notice,” a movie that doesn’t even really have the need for a “poster,” still tries to pull off one of the oldest cons in the book. Three superstars at the height of their powers! No script that has any reason for existing! Don’t bother popping the popcorn.

From its opening moments, setting up the entire film, it leaves you scratching your head. FBI criminal profiler John Hartley (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is in Rome chasing after Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), who considers himself to be the best international art thief in the world. After a convoluted chain of events, Hartley is made to look like he’s not really in the FBI, then is sent to a Russian prison atop a snowy mountain, where he is bunking with Booth, who he arrested just moments prior. Much of this is being engineered by “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot), who actually is the world’s greatest international art thief. All of this can be straightened out in moments with a simple phone call; no such call is made.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of double-crossing, triple-crossing, international travel and costume changes in this “Indiana Jones meets ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'” production written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence”). The three stars are chasing each other around in pursuit of three priceless, bejeweled eggs that Cleopatra once received as a wedding gift and were subsequently scattered to the far reaches of the planet. The only way these three will be able to romance the stones (sorry, eggs) will be if they work — plot twist! — together.

Between a Rock and a hard place

It’s hard to pick the most cloying aspect of “Red Notice.” It might be that, in a way unseen since the heyday of the “A-Team” TV series, almost every scene is filled with gunfire and explosions and deadly situations — yet no one ever gets hurt. There are so many shots of nameless villains dusting themselves off, assuring us they’re okay, that the whole movie feels like an extended children’s game of cops and robbers. Or perhaps it could be that the film sets a record for having two characters talking privately in a supposedly secure room … only to have a third sneak up undetected behind them with a gun … and sometimes have a fourth person sneak up undetected on that third person, drawing their gun. Or perhaps it’s just the frustration of watching three talented, endlessly charming actors wasting their time (and ours) on the sort of movie that has Ryan Reynolds making jokes about being in a movie just to keep the attention of the audience.

In the case of “Red Notice,” the film frequently feels like three distinct “brands” being brought together, rather than three actors falling in love with a script. Think of how many collective followers they have; think of how many impressions the film would get on opening weekend. It all feels as cold, calculated and antiseptic as the film’s CGI-powered action scenes reliant on Nazi vintage automobiles hidden underground in a jungle, all gassed up and ready for a car chase. When a bottle of Aviation Gin appears, it doesn’t feel like product placement so much as fulfillment of the inevitable.

Three on a spree

So, what does “Red Notice” have worth recommending? Beautiful, charismatic stars who look they’re having fun and seem to be improvising their own best lines. The always entertaining, chameleon-esque Chris Diamantopoulos (“Silicon Valley,” Moe from the “Three Stooges” movie, Mickey Mouse) as a tattooed baddie with a Napoleon complex. A breezy, brainless attitude that makes for a decent turn-it-on-the-background while you scroll through your phone afternoon.

If you go onto the IMDb page for “Red Notice,” two things stand out about the movie that tell you everything you need to know. Under “Trivia,” it mentions that when Dwayne Johnson’s character arrives at the villain’s masquerade party, he has an invitation with a QR code — and if you pause the film and scan the code, it will take you to a video of “Red Notice” bloopers. Under “goofs,” it lists more than a dozen reasons why the events of this movie could never unfold in our world — including fundamental misunderstandings of the way rocket launchers, facial recognition systems, frozen bank accounts, and even the film’s automobiles work. The bottom line: If “Red Notice” put as much thought into its own plausibility as it did towards its gimmickry, it would have been far better off.

It’s ironic that a movie about “the con” feels itself like an old-fashioned Hollywood con, one using big stars to make you pay money to watch a bad script. With the Netflix model, you aren’t actually paying specific money to watch “Red Notice,” per se. Nevertheless, by the end, you might find yourself wondering who you can talk to about getting a refund.

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