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Why 'Red Notice' Is Just Another One of Netflix's Forgettable Action Movies

Red Notice’s A-movie budget and C-movie director can't even scratch our B-movie itch. Read our take on the film.

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Why 'Red Notice' Is Just Another One of Netflix's Forgettable Action Movies
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A cop and a thief team up to take down a mutual rival. A treasure hunt for Cleopatra's three golden eggs leads to globetrotting misadventures, from a masquerade ball in Valencia to a Nazi bunker in Argentina. Throw in some extended chases, shoot-outs and explosions for good measure. Some banter to ease all the tension. Netflix's big-budget pseudo-blockbuster, Red Notice, is an action comedy created by the algorithm. It's a movie designed to fill up the recommendation list, so that the next time you are done watching the Indiana Jones movies, The Thomas Crown Affair or National Treasure, you have got something to kill the time. What's worse is the movie winks at the viewer as it is shamefully lifting from better ones. At one point, Ryan Reynolds whistles the Indian Jones theme as he robs Nazi loot.

Red Notice's director is one Rawson Marshall Thurber, who's previously helmed such forgettable fare with even more forgettable titles like DodgeBall, We're the Millers, Central Intelligence, and Skyscraper. These are the kind of movies directors might have stamped an Alan Smithee on to protect their reputation. Red Notice’s A-movie budget and C-movie director can't even scratch our B-movie itch. The cast led by Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot can't charm their way out of it either. For they're playing themselves or at least the algorithmic archetypes they always seem to play. So, they’re really just going through the motions. Dwayne Johnson gets his same grump on as FBI Special Agent John Hartley. Ryan Reynolds gets his same motor-mouthed snark on as the world's second most wanted art thief, Nolan Booth. Gal Gadot brings that same sense of mystery as the world's most wanted, Sarah Black aka The Bishop. When Sarah rats on Nolan and frames John, the two men must team up after being shipped to a Siberian prison.

The double-crosses and triple-crosses, which we can see coming from a mile away, frustrate rather than surprise. Characters lack chemistry and depth. John is a mere cipher of invulnerability. Nolan is a delivery system for quips. Sarah pops in from time to time to put their dynamics to the test.

Red Notice is a well practically overflowing with bad narrative decisions. It is a series of competently but not compellingly choreographed action sequences interrupted by dull stretches of character development. And what makes for backstories is an assortment of daddy issues.

Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds in Red Notice.

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Leading a watch-and-instantly forget Netflix action movie constitutes a baptism of sorts for many of Hollywood's stars. Just in the last few months, Liam Neeson got one (The Ice Road). Karen Gillan (Gunpowder Milkshake) and Jason Momoa (Sweet Girl) too. So did Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate). Giving every star, from has-beens to could-bes, their own trashy movie has become standard operating procedure for the streamer. Each one of those movies were trashed by critics before release, ridiculed on social media after release, only to disappear forever from cultural discourse. They aren't even of the so-bad-they're-good variety. Like a Timecop, a Con Air, or any cinematic train wreck forever hallowed in the Church of the Corrigibly Crappy that they become cult in their own way. The Netflix action movies are the worst kind of bad, ones that are all but blotted out within a week, never to be a part of pop culture's lingua franca. Not even a stoner is going to rate them highly.

Despite millions being spent and noted stars anchoring these projects, it is hard to think many of us will ever hit play on these movies again.

Yet, the streaming giant continues to make them. Mistaking its algorithm for alchemy, they keep churning out content ad infinitum. Content being king and all. Which is why the movies are so identikit in nature. Take Gunpowder Milkshake and Kate for instance. The protagonists in both movies are cold-blooded assassins who are humanised by the young girls they come across on their paths. Kate's saga — about a woman who has less than 24 hours to exact revenge on those who have poisoned her — is a slightly different take on the classic film noir D.O.A. (1949). The rudimentary idea behind Gunpowder Milkshake is John Wick but with women. There is little to no redeeming value to these movies. Sweet Girl, which stars Jason Momoa and Isabela Merced, is an anti-Big Pharma movie full of Taken-isms with a ridiculous enough reveal, but not one so mind-blowing it would leave social media talking for weeks, like Malignant for example.

Gal Gadot in Red Notice.

Then, there's the problem of who's directing these movies and how. Red Notice's Rawson Marshall Thurber, Kate's Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and Sweet Girl's Brian Andrew Mendoza all appear to be alumni of the Michael Bay school. There is no clear vision to the movies, and no personality to the set pieces. The action is mediated without any kinaesthetic artistry or spatial coherence. A multi-camera set-up allows for adequate coverage so that a sequence can be made coherent and tense enough through quick cuts during post-production. The special effects conceal the mediocrity, rather than reveal any ingenuity. Good action movies use action sequences to inform key plot or character elements, not merely deliver visceral thrills. The plot builds slowly with lulls and highs and the action increases in intensity, making the climax all the more rewarding. A lot of these Netflix action movies, however, hit the accelerator to 200 kilometres an hour right from the word go. Not only does it become a war of attrition in the aftermath, the ending loses its impact in the process.

Stare into the abyss of Netflix's catalogue, the abyss stares back at you. As a film lover, it's hard not to be cynical when a filmmaker like Mike Leigh is struggling to get his projects funded.

With the exhausting sense of over-familiarity Netflix’s movies breed, even the die-hard action lover can't help but give up on the genre till the next John Wick or Mission: Impossible hits cinemas. Filling up its reservoir with endless content, the streaming platform has ended up burying some quality foreign-language action movies, like Lost Bullet (2020), Wira (2019) and The Night Comes for Us (2018). All Netflix wants to do though is keep building its subscribers, and give them quantity for their money's worth. Quantity and content being the buzzwords. Not quality and cinema. Movies like Red Notice are the end-result of a corporation controlling the production instead of creators, an algorithm instead of artists.

Red Notice releases on Netflix on 12 November.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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