A daredevil guy with a leather jacket tears around the world, in search of ancient Egyptian treasure captured by the Nazis. He also ends up hiking through the South American jungle and making a death-defying escape from the bad guys in their own aerial transport. Gosh, where have I heard that before?
But wait — this protagonist is forced to team up with his biggest rival, creating a playful jostle of competitive one-uppery that continually hints at reluctant friendship. There’s also an underestimated brunette who seems to keep outwitting them both, and the trio’s antics play out against the glamorous backdrop of the city of Rome.
Nope, I think I’ve heard that one too.
Netflix’s “Red Notice” — which, at nearly 330 million viewing hours, is now the most-watched original movie on Netflix ever — borrows heavily from both Steven Spielberg’s 1981 hit “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as well as Guy Ritchie’s 2015 spy flick “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” But that doesn’t make it a bad movie.
As of Wednesday, the film had scored a mere 35 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes’ “tomatometer” despite receiving a 92 percent positive score from audiences on the same platform. Maybe that’s because the film focuses more on entertaining audiences than checking all the identity politics boxes demanded by the same Hollywood critics who thought “Fauci” was a good Disney movie.
Or maybe it’s because there are two kinds of movie-watchers in the world: those who want a profound, thought-provoking masterpiece, and those who want a good time. The best movies usually do both, of course, but either done right can make a worthwhile piece of cinema. And while critics, in claiming to seek the former, can end up elevating bad movies just because they are avant-garde, the popularity of “Red Notice” indicates that the average moviegoer still enjoys a good old action flick.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is introduced to the audience as FBI agent John Hartley, on the hunt for the world’s best art thief Nolan Booth, played by Ryan Reynolds. As both men one-up each other, they’re forced to work together to beat the Bishop — the world’s mysterious other best art thief — played by Gal Gadot.
While “Red Notice” may not be the cult classic that Harrison Ford made famous in “Indiana Jones,” it obviously pulls heavily from its 40-year-old predecessor. Reynolds’ character even whistles the iconic “Raiders” soundtrack as he and Hartley discover a stockpile of Nazi treasure, another clear nod to the whip-cracking archeologist.
But “Red Notice” might bear even more similarities to 2015’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” a movie rendition of the 1960s TV show of the same name. If you enjoyed “Red Notice,” you’ll almost undoubtedly like the 2015 flick, which features Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as an American operative and a Russian spy forced to team up at the height of the Cold War to keep a wealthy villain from obtaining nuclear weapons. Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot’s dynamic mirrors the chemistry between Cavill, Hammer, and the stylish colleague they find in Alicia Vikander, even if the “Red Notice” trio lacks some of the other’s depth and warmth.
It turns out, at least on the silver screen, spies and world-class criminals have a lot of similarities — including lots of glamour and plenty of ego. Both movies are gorgeous and fun to watch, with elegant costumes, elaborate backdrops, and set romantically in Rome (although “Red Notice” could lay off the CGI). They both lean into the lavish, debonair attitude of a Bond movie without taking themselves as seriously.
That said, “Red Notice” is at its weakest in the one-liners it continually tries and fails to make funny. Most of them come from Reynolds, whose quips come off more groan-worthy than clever. But overall, just like “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” the movie’s lack of self-seriousness leaves room for fun entertainment, especially with the final twists each movie delivers.
Just as, at the end of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” we find out all three spies are (mostly) good guys, “Red Notice” ends with the twist that all three leads are bad guys. Not only is Hartley not an FBI agent, he’s been teaming up with Gadot’s character all along — and the couple together comprise the notorious “Bishop.”
The last several minutes of the movie involve a fast-paced flurry of the Bishop duo and Booth trying to con each other, before all three agree to team up in an obvious set-up for a sequel. It’s a mostly clever and satisfying ending (with the weird exception of a random appearance by Ed Sheeran that does nothing to further the plot).
If you’re looking for a revolutionary piece of art that leaves you thinking for days, “Red Notice” will probably come up short. But as an entertaining action film to enjoy over popcorn that, for once, doesn’t come from one of Hollywood’s endless and overused franchises, “Red Notice” does its job well.