The Gremlin’s (Film) Library: Two Thumbs Down For ‘Red Notice’

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for a recently-released movie.

Whoof. I don’t enjoy doing bad reviews; anybody who follows my reviews will notice that there’s very few truly negative reviews on here, and when they are, they’re for things that have well and truly earned it. It’s with a bit of a broken heart, then, that I settle down to write a one-star review for what could have been an excellent film – the Netflix release action-comedy Red Notice. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot, it’s got a studded cast, absolutely breath-taking cinematography and effects, and action sequences that are a joy to look at.

Shame about the nearly consciously mean-spirited ending.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. After all, people go into heist/action movies for the actual heists and action – not for the emotional centers or for soft feelings. Still, though, there’s a bit of a gut-punch involved when there’s stark emotional manipulation involved, not just of a character but of the audience. Red Notice sets itself up quite nicely; Dwayne Johnson plays John Hartley, FBI agent and criminal profiler, who’s dead set on catching Nolan Booth, art thief and smug little prick. After catching Booth in the act, there’s a superbly shot and choreographed action sequence of Booth escaping up scaffolding and using quick thinking against the guards that chase him, even evading Hartley at the last moment. Hartley still manages to catch up with him, though – Booth’s arrested in Bali, and the precious art piece he stole is taken back by Interpol. This art piece is one of three ancient “eggs of Cleopatra”, and a billionaire is offering a massive sum to get all three at once. So when the recovered egg turns out to be a fake, Hartley’s framed for it – and put into the same prison as Booth.

So far, so good. Johnson and Reynold’s chemistry is excellent, and it’s not really a shock that Reynolds is in fine form here as a snarky little shit of a thief with daddy issues. (One wonders why he wasn’t cast as Rocket Raccoon, although I do love Bradley Cooper.) Gal Gadot makes a fantastically sassy villain, too, as the elusive Bishop who’s always a step or two ahead of them. Sure, she made a great Wonder Woman; but her as the giggly, casually threatening Bishop is spell-binding. (Can you say “bibbetty-bobbetty-sub?” I can.)

You may be wondering where all this high praise is coming from for a one-star review. That’s exactly what hurts so badly. This has all the makings of a classic. A prison escape with a helicopter, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot going head to head both on the dance floor and with some great old weapons, theatrical art-thief villainy, and of course, the growing friendship between the male co-leads interspersed with Deadpool-style “is it gay? no. but also it might be, are you sure?” And every single part of it is rendered pointless when Hartley (Johnson) is very suddenly, and very drastically, revealed to be working with the Bishop.

That’s right. Our cop main character, who we’re theoretically following, is working with the villain; and Booth, who’s gotten attached to Hartley, is left stranded in the cold. The ending puts all three of them together as co-conspirators eventually, but there’s nothing funny about the look on his face when Hartley kisses the Bishop — especially after all the casual “jokes” about how Hartley is so totally in love with him. It’s cruel, honestly. It’s nasty, in a way that likely wasn’t intended, but that really doesn’t fly with me in the year 2021. We all know what the term “queer-baiting” means. There might be some debate over the specifics; and I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised by a last-minute hookup between the Bishop and Hartley, or even Hartley and Booth not getting together (I knew for a fact that if they’d done that, it’d be in the news already). But making cheerful gay jokes about the two co-leads in between their genuine emotional bonding, only to have one betray the other, reveal he was lying the whole time, and do it by kissing the woman they’ve been chasing/rivals with the whole time? That does not sit well.

Nor does it sit any easier with me that it… well… doesn’t make any sense. The reveal of Hartley as the villain (or working with the villain) takes every bit of tension and suspense out of the movie. There’s no uncertainty; there’s no drama left; there’s no moment, according to this new version of events, where he was ever really in danger. That, or he’s absolutely terrible at this, since he trusts Booth enough to end up getting headbutted by a bull. Gadot’s villainess is thoroughly defanged; after all, she was never really in danger from Hartley. In fact, Hartley goes from being a pretty decent if slightly scary cop, to being a… pretty subpar con man, actually.

I love a good twist ending… but bad twist endings are dreadful. Not every con has to be The Usual Suspects (and I didn’t even like The Usual Suspects) – and a bad copy of Keyser Soze is visible a mile off anyway. If you make a movie for spectacle and grandeur but then destroy its rewatch value for the sake of a twist, all you’re doing is making sure that your movie has an extremely short shelf life.

…And man, I’m getting pretty tired of Ryan Reynolds’s characters getting treated weird as hell for being bi. Just let the guy play a queer man, or at least don’t be so dickish about it.

Final Rating: One star, maybe less. I’m all the more disappointed in the rest of the movie being so fun.

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