At some point between Dwayne Johnson’s early years as a pro wrestler and his rise to becoming one of the highest-paid actors in the biz today, something about him fizzled out.
The action star rose because of his cocky charm and the ease with which he imparted a leonine intensity, shifting to softy mode at the drop of a hat. When Hollywood began relying increasingly on green screens, Johnson stood out, larger than life, against muddy digital backdrops of crumbling cities and candy-colored jungles. Yet I find myself missing the days when his eyebrows did all the work.
Case in point: ‘Red Notice’, his latest collaboration with writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (‘Skyscraper’, ‘Central Intelligence’). In this Netflix adventure movie about cops and art thieves in search of a rare treasure, Johnson goes through the motions with none of the pizazz.
He is practically dead-eyed, as if his soul has been sapped by the corporate overlords who roll out mediocrity after mediocrity with his name on the marquee.
Our eyes gravitate toward him, though lately only for one good reason: He is massive. Cue a completely out-of-the-blue faceoff with a raging bull. (Yes, this happens.)
Thing is, we already know he is the biggest and toughest there ever was. Johnson knows this as well. His unwillingness to break with this persona has begun to feel played out, not least of all because he seems bored doing it.
In the film, Johnson plays John Hartley, an FBI profiler forced to team up with expert art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) when he is framed by “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot), a rival art thief with a penchant for sabotage. Together, they form a triumvirate of stereotypes: the lawful strongman, the cunning jester and the femme fatale.
Constant rug-pullings complicate this equation, though not in any genuinely surprising ways - the performances are too sleepy and perfunctory to pull off the film’s many tricks and double-crossings with any flair or umph. And then there’s the script, which turns Reynolds into a cursed generator of lame quips. Listen closely and you might even hear notes of regret in his delivery.
The plot involves an Indiana Jones-style race to track down and possess Cleopatra’s three golden eggs. In Rome, Booth outmaneuvers Hartley after a mad dash through an art museum, although fate catches up to him in Bali. The two become buddies in a Russian prison and eventually head to a gala in Valencia, Spain, then an underground lair in a South American jungle.
But globe-trotting loses all its fun when everything looks plastic. And for a heist movie seemingly planting the seeds for a franchise in the vein of “The Mummy” or ‘National Treasure’ movies, there is no sense of discovery, no anticipatory thrills as our heroes find and connect the clues. Uninterested in world building or creating any sense of stakes, ‘Red Notice’ is merely an expensive brandishing of star power - only the stars haven’t got it in them.
Don’t miss it!
‘Red Notice’ is streaming on Ntellix now.