Birthday movie review: Red Notice

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

For the most part, criminals and Bond masterminds with a propensity for over-explaining their evil plans aside, people are generally law-abiding folks who stay politely within legally-set margins.

We are, for want of a better phrase, good people.

Which could explain why watching other people, especially glamorous people with access to bottomless travel budgets, fashion wardrobes to die for and a gift for witty, socially savvy oneliners, is such an escapist treat.

And why watching a frothy confection like Red Notice is such an escapist release, providing us with a gloriously silly opportunity to flip the bird to the authorities we normally so obediently heed and see where cheeky impulse and calculating whim could take us.

It turns out, helpful big red geographical markers onscreen thrown into the gloriously obvious mix, quite a long way in fact, all places that, happily for a pandemic weary audience, show no signs of COVID in any way, shape or form.

In Red Notice, wanted international art thieves, perpetually wisecracking Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) and Sarah Black aka the Bishop (Gal Gadot) are on the run from FBI agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) and Interpol investigator Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) who are determined to bring the law-breaking pair, always in contest with each other, to justice.

Naturally, they fail miserably although Hartley, through circumstances best left to the film which throws out improbabilities like confetti at an environmentally unsound wedding, gets drawn into their orbit, carried on their tide of champagne, parties and audacious art thefts in such a way that he has no choice but to go along with it all, hoping to clear his good name in the process.

A buddy movie in three parts – people, not acts – Red Notice is, as you might surmise, not a devastatingly revelatory film about French peasantry in a blighted village in the middle ages, standing ready to collect Oscars in one hands and gushing reviews from critics in the other.

THat is, however, not even remotely its intent.

A delicious meeting of the intrigue and glamourously criminal intent of Ocean 8 or 11, and the breathless history-laden sleuthing of the National Treasure films (of which there need to be more) – the movie’s MacGuffin are three beautiful jewel-encrusted eggs supposedly given to Cleopatra two thousand years earlier by Marc Antony, only two of which are known to still exist though the third, it is hinted, is out there somewhere – Red Notice is all about having reality-defying, genre-hilarious, blockbustery fun in the tradition of many of the larger-than-life cinematic entries from the Eighties and Nineties.

It is all about stretching the bounds of credulity and possibility to bursting point and beyond, fabricating a fantasy world where everyone is deliciously fashinable, ready of wit and possessed of the kind of consequence-evading luck that would leave a leprechaun vividly green with jealousy.

It’s a fun pool to swim in, no matter how you cut it, and it provides blessed escapist release from a world that seems diabolically obsessed with killing off anything that looks even closely like it might be divertingly light and confected.

Yes, Red Notice is all kinds of ridiculous and over-the-top manically silly but it does it so well, aided in no small part by vivaciously zestful performances by Reynolds, Johnson and Gadot who bounce off each other with the playful alacrity of kids in a bouncy castle, that you happily go along for the ride.

The coincidences are rife, the near misses multitudinous and the lucky escapes everywhere in sometimes mirth-inducing sight but you’re happy to go along with them because Red Notice has clearly decided to let it “f**k you reality
flag fly and you’re happy to let them wave it until their arms fall off (which, by the way, will magically reattach themselves because it’s that kind of film).

Take the escape by Booth and Hartley from an imposing Russian stone fortressprison set high upon a massive pillar of rock soaring high into the blizzard-pocked sky.

Leaving aside how on earth you’d get the thing built in the first place, and why in film anyway, the Russians seems content to litter Siberia with implausible redoubts and hideaways, what really seizes the imagination here is how the two characters make their getaway in defiance of all odds.

Just-so placed stones that provide a handy wall to dash through, a flaming wooden walkway that somehow holds together long enough for the pair to get to a waiting helicopter and prison guards with the aim of a Vader stormtrooper all play a part in a scene that is insanely impossible but as a result, an absolute ball to watch.

Full to the comically belief suspending rafters with crosses, double crosses and near-escapes from paying for your actions, Red Notice races from one OTT scene to another, buoyed by riotous wit, energy to burn, both physical and verbal and a heady sense that it can do no wrong.

It does, of course, as the improbablities pile up, but it’s easy to glide over them because everyone, cast and audience included, are just having so much fun.

Granted not all the time because when you have severe Russian prison guards treating you like scum or Interpol agents like Das costantly on your tail, it can’t always be a party with tuxedos and evening dresses, canapes and champagne but even when things are dire, and much of the direness is deceiving in a way that the film takes great delight in revealing just when you think all is lost, Red Notice finds a way to get its zest on and run with the fun.

With two sequels already in the works, and an ending neatly set up for them, Red Notice is a soul-invigorating return to light, confected, largely inconsequential old-timey blockbuster hilarity, the kind that sweeps you in a tsunami of silliness so overpowering that even resisting it a little seems churlish.

Will the film stay with you long after it’s ended?

You are supposed at this point to say “NO!” light and puffy is it, but the truth is, the characters get under your skin, the sheer relief of not behaving properly, even vicariously, is thrilling and the glorious sense of telling reality, which has not covered itself in glory in the last two years, is enlivening in the most reawakening of ways, and you can’t help but to think back fondly on it, like the unexpected friend who turns out with champagne, chocolate and roses just when you think you’ll never enjoy yourself again.

Who can’t be swayed and buoyed by an escapist film like Red Notice which pushes boundaries, strains incredulity and rips envelopes to shreds but has a bundle of heady fun doing it, possessed of characters who are having a ball, a plot that rips around the world in red block letter bombasity, and a ready sense of wit so elastically alive you will happily go anywhere with it, feeling ever more alive aned emboldened as you do so.

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