The high-octane heist thriller “Red Notice” is reportedly the most expensive movie in the history of Netflix, with a budget somewhere in the $160 million neighborhood — and it certainly looks the part, with three major stars sharing top billing and all sorts of swooping camera angles capturing a number of high-production-level action sequences involving prison escapes and helicopter hijinks and elaborate chases and all that jazz.
Problem is, there’s no movie inside this movie. It’s a breezy and intermittently entertaining and super slick work, but it’s filled with so many overly familiar notes and well-worn cliches, and there are so many winking nods to the viewer, it feels as if we’re about two rewrites away from this thing being a flat-out spoof on the level of “Airplane!” or “Hot Shots!” or “Scary Movie.” Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds are among the most charismatic stars in the world, but they collectively almost neglect to give legitimate performances here, as they’re so committed to playing off their own images, to the point where we half-expect them to take a pause halfway through the story so Johnson can demonstrate one of his badass workout routines, Reynolds can make a funny joke about his fake feud with Hugh Jackman and Gadot can start another sing-along a la her infamous “Imagine” celebrity medley. (As it is, there’s a gratuitous in-joke about Johnson’s fast-and-furious rival Vin Diesel.)
In fact, Gadot’s character, who is known as The Bishop, does sing an iconic pop standard from a half-century ago, delivering a rendition of “Downtown,” and that makes it two straight weeks for a cappella takes on that Petula Clark standard, and I much preferred the Anya Taylor-Joy version in “Last Night in Soho.” Here, Gadot sings “Downtown” while administering jumper-cable shock torture to a character’s testicles. She’s going downtown, get it? That’s the level of sophisticated alleged humor on display in “Red Notice.”
Ah, but let’s go back to the beginning, with the obligatory origins story setting up the convoluted and increasingly ridiculous storyline, which is so over the top they could have gone to animation in the final scenes. It’s all about “The Mystery of Cleopatra’s Third Egg,” and no, it’s not some time-traveling fertilization story. According to the lore, Mark Antony pledged his love to Cleopatra by presenting her with three bejeweled eggs, “each one more exquisite than the last,” as we’re told in voice-over. For centuries, these treasured eggs were lost to history, but two of the eggs were discovered in the early 20th century, and in present day, one egg is in a museum in Rome, one belongs to a private collector, and the third — well, that will be revealed in due time, my friend.
Dwayne Johnson is the FBI’s top forensic profiler, one John Hartley, who arrives at the aforementioned Italian museum with Rita Arya’s Interpol Inspector Urvashi Das, as they’ve been tipped off that the world-famous thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) is planning to steal one of Cleopatra’s eggs that very day.
“Your badge is no good here,” says Inspector Das, “so no American cowboy stuff.”
“Don’t worry, I left my chaps at home,” comes the retort, and away we go.
Sure enough, Booth has the egg, and as he dashes away, Inspector Das exclaims to her troops, “He’s heading for the exit!” GOOD GUESS.
After an elongated sequence featuring construction scaffolding straight out of a Rube Goldberg cartoon, snappy banter between Booth and Hartley in which Booth comments on Hartley’s snazzy leather jacket and his giant bald head, some CGI background stuff that has both Booth and Hartley hanging from the edge of a building before plummeting down to the usual convenient awning — oh and let’s not forget some painfully obvious product placement for Coca-Cola and Porsche — Booth manages to escape, and soon Inspector Das is led to believe Hartley isn’t even with the FBI and in fact he’s the real thief here. Eventually both Hartley and Booth are confined in a Russian gulag, where Booth keeps commenting on their budding friendship and Hartley keeps saying they are not friends, even though they share twin “my father was terrible” stories.
Along the way, we meet Gal Gadot’s The Bishop, who is the world’s greatest thief (Booth is No. 2) and is using Hartley and Booth as pawns, get it, as she masterminds a long con designed to take possession of all three eggs. That plan involves a narcissistic arms dealer named Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), who is forever taking off his shirt to reveal his tattooed torso and talks in an exaggerated whisper as if he’s in a James Bond spoof film and who happens to own the second egg, at least for now. Sotto Voce thinks The Bishop is in love with him, which makes him yet another sucker in her game.
“Red Notice” takes one twist and turn after another, none of them particularly clever, as the dialogue is filled with references to movies such as “Sullivan’s Travels,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurassic Park,” which only serve to remind us we’d rather be watching “Sullivan’s Travels,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Jurassic Park.”
Thanks for the notice.