Until a few years ago, Ryan Reynolds’ Twitter bio went something like this: “Introducing people to the version of myself that tested highest in the focus groups.” It was tongue-in-cheek, admirably self-deprecating, and had the faintest whiff of rebellion. His new bio, however, is essentially a list of his many business interests—at least one of which is an elaborate practical joke. The reason behind this change could be rational—as Reynolds’ portfolio grew, so did a desire to project it. But pump the breaks for one second and think about it; did this career rebranding happen because that original bio was a little too close to the truth?
After Deadpool (surprisingly) hit in 2016, Reynolds made the distressingly obvious decision to pivot exclusively playing slightly altered versions of the wisecracking Marvel character in each of his subsequent films. You want self-referential quips? Why not watch Free Guy? How about some smug savagery or rakish charm? Look no further than The Hitman’s Bodyguard and 6 Underground. And if, because of some long-simmering jealousy, you can’t stand the sight of Reynolds’ face but adore his dry wit, he has you covered on that front, too. The movie is called Detective Pikachu, and it is delightful. It’s obvious why Reynolds went all in on Deadpool like this, though. He tried to tell us. It was the version of himself that tested highest in focus groups.
But it was only a matter of time before this throbbing self-obsession would finally explode. And that is precisely what has happened this week. The mushroom cloud of devastation comes in the form of Red Notice, the new action comedy on Netflix that takes things a bit too far by featuring not only Reynolds, but also perhaps the only other male movie star of this level who is equally repulsed by risks: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Together, they are the two most uninteresting A-listers working today, and ironically, also among the highest paid.
They reportedly earned $20 million apiece for Red Notice, a movie that ends with a plot twist so out of left field that were Abbas Mustan not on the cusp of releasing their own Netflix project, their legal counsel would’ve advised them to sue on moral grounds alone. Directed by Johnson’s lackey Rawson Marshall Thurber on a reported budget of $200 million, Red Notice is the latest (and so far, most expensive) attempt by the streamer to create IP of its own.
This strategy hasn’t really worked so far, at least not with projects of this scale. While the most popular Netflix romantic comedies have consistently been given sequels, the Will Smith-starrer Bright has all but evaporated from public consciousness, and the streamer itself admitted that nobody cared enough about 6 Underground to justify paying millions of dollars for a follow-up.
In a take two that is somewhat on-brand for him, Red Notice marks Reynolds’ second attempt at securing a streaming franchise for himself. Moments after being introduced, his character pours himself a glass of Aviation Gin—self-serving product placement whose brazenness can only rival the UpGrad ads in Taapsee Pannu’s Rashmi Rocket, produced by the company’s co-founder Ronnie Screwvala. It’s a moment so bizarrely misplaced that you almost expect The Rock, who is lurking in the darkness, to reveal himself by popping open a bottle of Teremana tequila. Maybe in the sequel?
Like Reynolds, Johnson has also restricted himself to playing versions of the same swaggering alpha in virtually every movie since Furious 7. He said in a recent interview that his calendar is so packed now that he prioritises films on the basis of a litmus test that he calls ‘the Moses effect’—the ability of a project to push all others to the side. Clearly, the irony is lost on him. It is this very messiah complex that put him at loggerheads with the Felliniesque Vin Diesel over on the Fast & Furious franchise.
There is no doubt that Johnson and Reynolds have a remarkable ability to deliver box office success in an era that is losing movie stars quicker than it would take for Tom Cruise to crack a grin. But while both Jungle Cruise and Free Guy, on the face of it, are ‘original’ movies, they’re perhaps more derivative of their own stars’ past work than the kind of films that Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell made back in the 70s and 80s.
Unlike Ford and Russell, Johnson and Reynolds have no rough edges. But they used to. Let’s not forget that The Rock has worked with filmmakers such as Dito Montiel and Richard Kelly—now, he basically alternates between Thurber, Jake Kasdan and Brad Peyton. Reynolds, on the other hand, has an even more diverse set of films under his belt—Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland, and not to mention, Marjane Satrapi’s dark comedy The Voices, in which the actor, in addition to playing a mentally ill killer, also voiced a dog named Bosco and a cat named Mr Whiskers.
As singularly reliant as the movie is on its stars’ screen presence, Red Notice is hardly the sort of project that they should be taking on at this stage in their careers. Sloppily written, startlingly artificial to look at, and featuring the most egregious overuse of drones since Kota Factory, it’s the sort of movie that will probably break Netflix viewership records, but will be forgotten well before the streamer has a chance to actually report them.
Alas, the mere idea of our biggest movie stars using their hard-earned clout to push boundaries seems like something that would get you slapped for uttering in a Hollywood agency these days. To experience that sensation, all you need to do is watch Red Notice.