Red Notice is Netflix’s biggest, most-expensive movie ever, reportedly costing $200 million to produce after studio changes, scheduling conflicts, and moving most filming to a soundstage in Atlanta because of the pandemic. Undoubtedly, this movie is the type that would have been released as a summer blockbuster in years past but has now been sent to limited theaters and our living rooms thanks to Netflix taking over distribution. Personally, I found Ryan Reynolds’s obnoxious performance easier to endure from the comfort of my own home.
In the movie, FBI profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) is in hot pursuit of art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) when he gets sabotaged by The Bishop (Gal Gadot), a mysterious thief who has just knocked Booth from the “world’s most wanted” position. After escaping from prison, Hartley and Booth have to team up to find The Bishop, recover one of Cleopatra’s legendary golden eggs, and clear Hartley’s name.
Action comedies are Dwayne Johnson’s bread and butter. He is a master of the buddy comedy game, a wonderful straight-man with great comedic timing. Gal Gadot is charming and it was fun to see her play a bad guy. Ryan Reynolds is not funny in this movie. He is supposed to be the funny one, delivering the quips opposite Johnson’s very serious FBI agent, but his constant, terrible jokes are irritating. Admittedly, most of the fault goes to the screenplay, but Reynolds’s performance is so smug, if he knew that the jokes were awful, he certainly didn’t let on.
If I set aside how horrible Ryan Reynolds is in this movie, the rest of it is fine. Not great; fine. It looks expensive, with lush sets and wardrobe. The plot has plenty of twists and turns, maybe too many. It is diverting, but it lacks the fun that similarly polished heist movies have because they are smarter. Instead, Red Notice is heavy on the action and light on cleverness. In the final act, the story does come together with some fun reveals and witty lines, but by then it’s too late. The screenplay references Indiana Jones and The Maltese Falcon but comes nowhere near those films.
Red Notice was written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. It runs 1 hour 58 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence and action, some sexual references, and strong language.
Also on Netflix is an arthouse cinema take on the Harlem Renaissance novel Passing by Nella Larsen. During the time it took me to do a doctorate in American literature, I was assigned Passing no fewer than three times. It is a must-read about racism, set in Harlem in the 1920s. Rebecca Hall’s new adaptation of the novel is filmed in black and white, putting the emphasis on the shades of grey in the plot.
In Passing, old friends Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) bump into each other in a fancy tea room, where both women are passing as white. Irene is a pillar of her community, married to a respectable Black doctor, Brian (Andre Holland), and passes as white only sometimes for “convenience.” Clare, however, was raised by white relatives after her parents died and has been passing for white full time, going so far as marrying a terrible racist, John (Alexander Skarsgard). After their reunion, the two women become fascinated with each other’s lives, creating tension and perhaps disaster.
Director Rebecca Hall really leans into the beauty of the 1920s. The cinematography lingers over hat brims, staircases, and Art Deco architecture. Jazz piano plays pensively over transitional stretches of the story. I can imagine a version of this movie that emphasized the drama between the two friends, veering toward suspense, but instead, this movie focuses on Irene’s internal conflict with a thoughtful tone. That choice makes the story all the more provocative as it dwells on how capricious the racist environment the women live in can be. Please do not watch this movie instead of doing your English homework, but Passing is a gorgeous adaptation with intense performances and a wonderfully moody tone.
Passing was written and directed by Rebecca Hall based on the novel by Nella Larsen. It runs 98 minutes and is rated PG-13 for thematic material, some racial slurs, and smoking.