Producers: Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Hiram Garcia and Dany Garcia Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos, Ivan Mbakop. Vincenzo Amato and Rafael Petardi Distributor: Netflix
The collaboration between brawny wrestler-turned-Hollywood-star Dwayne Johnson and writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber has gone steadily downhill. Their first joint effort, “Central Intelligence” (2016), was a moderately enjoyable buddy action-comedy, buoyed by teaming him with Kevin Hart. The second, “Skyscraper” (2018), was a dumb, bloated action cartoon. But even it might be recalled fondly in comparison to this witless, bombastic stab at a globe-trotting comic adventure, a cinematic scavenger hunt in the “National Treasure” mold that wastes not only Johnson, but Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, though it probably fattened the hedge fund accounts of all three.
The plot kicks off with Johnson’s John Hartley—an implausible FBI profiler—accompanying Interpol Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) into an Italian museum, where he predicts an Egyptian artifact, one of three jeweled eggs of a monster-Fabergé variety supposedly bestowed on Cleopatra by Marc Antony, will be stolen by master art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds). He’s right, but Booth gets away with the egg after trashing the place anyway. Nonetheless Hartley and Das have no trouble tracking Booth down to his hideaway in Bali and arresting him.
Where did Hartley get his information on Booth? From the thief’s chief rival The Bishop (Gadot), who now turns the table on the agent, stealing the egg, framing Hartley as Booth’s accomplice and getting Das to send them both to a Russian prison. There they join forces to escape—a second big set-piece, helicopter and lots of firepower—and set out to steal the second egg, hidden away in the Spanish vault of a murderous arms dealer called Sotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos). Naturally The Bishop shows up there, too. Then it’s off to Africa, where Booth says the third egg—never before located—is to be found in a hoard of Nazi treasure.
Why the search for these eggs? Because an Egyptian mega-billionaire wants them as a wedding present for his daughter Cleopatra, for whose reception he has also hired a musical mega-star who will remain unnamed here.
The main problem with Thurber’s script is that it lacks all semblance of cleverness. There aren’t any enticing clues for viewers to puzzle over—the information is just doled out by folks who already know it—and the multiple twists carry little surprise. The dialogue is similarly limp—particularly the stuff assigned to Reynolds, whose smart-ass shtick is getting really tiresome, especially when the pretended bon mots are so dismally unfunny. Johnson’s performance is practically a parody of himself—the self-deprecation that made his earlier work agreeable is absent here, leaving nothing but a dully hulking presence. Gadot hasn’t had as much time as her co-stars to establish a screen persona, but her femme fatale turn is all boring pose, no cheeky delight.
Technically the picture looks rather chintzy, despite its big budget: Andy Nicholson’s production design, Mary Vogt’s costumes and Markus Förderer’s cinematography are all prosaic, and the editing by Mike Sale and Julian Clarke pedestrian, while Steve Jablonsky’s score sometimes sounds like bad Henry Mancini. Richard Hoover’s visual effects are mediocre: a sequence in which Hartley and Booth are tossed into a bullring and face an enraged animal is simply embarrassing.
When one thinks of all the money—reportedly some $200 million—and effort wasted in getting this bomb made during a shoot interrupted by the COVID pandemic (it was originally designed for theatrical release before being picked up by Netflix), the resultant debacle is all the sadder. “Red Note” might mean an Interpol wanted notice, but in this case it should also indicate a warning about spending your time on this movie, which—appropriately, given its MacGuffins—lays one huge egg.