Red Notice

Written by Taylor Baker

10/100

Netflix’s latest big-budget film Red Notice looks like a film, talks like a film, and acts like a film but is devoid of meaning, humanity, and sincerity. It’s reminiscent to the thin layer of laminate you often find on countertops and floors. Only brought to life by what lays behind it, which in this case are three of the biggest movie stars on the planet, forcing their persona’s as if they’re characters themselves into a shell of a screenplay. With awful CGI, continuity errors, and more drone cinematography than it knows how to use, it’s clear that Rawson Marshall Thurber bit off more than he could chew.

Rawson’s first film debuted over a decade ago in 2004, a perennially quoted comedy classic in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Between then and now he’s had varied success with We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence, and Skyscraper. The last two films were not only collaborations with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but also massive successes earning more than 150 million dollars over their respective budgets at the box office. It’s clear what Netflix saw in getting a project from Thurber and Johnson on their platform. It’s hard to argue they’re wrong, from a dollars and cents standpoint. But this Nazi memorabilia frolic through meaningless landscapes spanning different continents seems as frivolous as Netflix’s bigger films have ever been. 

The premise of the film is an art heist with a few double crosses, the likes of which we’ve seen on and off for at least the last 70 years. Dwayne Johnson’s John Hartley serves as FBI Profiler, and as the film begins he’s attempting to stop Nolan Booth played by Ryan Reynolds from making off with one of Cleopatra’s famed eggs. In the background is the faceless Bishop who tips off Hartley on Booth’s plan to steal the egg. But after an extended chase sequence which feels absent both excitement and consequences we see our hero gather the thief and the loot, only to be tricked by Gal Gadot’s Bishop and end up imprisoned in Russia with Booth. If this feels like a paint-by-numbers plot that’s because it distinctly is.

Michael Bay’s big budget Netflix behemoth 6 Underground (notably with a budget 150 million, 50 million dollars cheaper for those keeping score) that also featured Reynolds looked dazzling, had exciting moments, and felt steeped in real consequences. Sure, it was glossy and built around set pieces too, but it mostly like real humans going through those daring events. Red Notice shows endless streams of bullets flying thru the air toward a wall of baddies only to not hit anyone. And when they do get taken down it tends to be from something in the environment like when a rock wall dislodge a nameless baddy with the patented Star Wars scream sound effect.

The violence doesn’t just ring hollow but artificial. It seems as if earnings forecasts and algorithms comprise the very identity of the film. There’s an interesting real world correlation to Gadot’s Bishop hunting for the eggs of Cleopatra. Eggs which we may very well see again in her upcoming film with Patty Jenkins, Cleopatra. And early next year we’ll see her in Egypt for Branagh’s Death on the Nile. By the end of the film, it’s clear that the only chemistry that does exist is between Reynolds and Johnson. It’s hard to see how things get any better with the inevitable sequel that is set up in the falling action. I suspect that for the time being, we’re going to get more of these meaningless movie star films whether we like them or not.

Red Notice Trailer

Red Notice is currently available to stream on Netflix.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Jungle Cruise

Written by Taylor Baker

55/100

Disney’s new theme park ride inspired film Jungle Cruise is a tale of two films, something not all that surprising when you factor in that 7 writers worked on the film. 4 writers for the story, 3 more for the screenplay. We start out the film with a run of the mill exposition of the MacGuffin–a magical flower in Brazil–that morphs into an imploring speech by Jack Whitehall’s McGregor. Requesting that he be allowed to inspect a recently unearthed treasure from a learned men’s society. The speech he’s delivering was in fact written by his sister, Lily played by Emily Blunt. Hijinks ensue, leading to a chase sequence in which a maniacally accented Austro-Hungarian Prince played by Jesse Plemons has our modern Mary Poppins dangling precariously from a ladder outside a window, with the now stolen arrowhead she so desired safely tucked away. Rather than hand it over to him in exchange for her safety she opts to drop down onto a double-decker bus parked just beneath her, courtesy of her brother, and we’re off to the races!

This first introduction is reminiscent in multiple ways to the 1999 classic The Mummy. Whether period, the charming brother side character (John Hannah), and the heroine who seemingly knows more about the legend than anyone else Evie (Rachel Weisz) the makings of a good well rounded adventure story all seem to be here. But before we go too far down that bend in the river, there’s another apt comparison and one that had me sold on the premise of the project long before I ever saw a trailer, the idea that it was a modern riff on a storied classic, The African Queen. As similar as Emily Blunt’s Lily feels to Weisz’s Evie from at least that introduction the actual character of Lily that Emily continues to inhabit feels directly informed, if not lifted from Katharine Hepburn’s fantastic turn as Rose Sayer in the 1951 classic. Strong minded and unflappable, Blunt’s character finds a natural evolution to Hepburn’s Sayer in adorning herself with breeches rather than dresses. And dressing down The Rock’s Frank for his behavior and jokes rather than his alcoholism. Which Frank demonstrates plenty of.

Eventually Lily and McGregor make it to Brazil while old Frank is trying to get his engine back from Paul Giamatti’s gold toothed crony Nilo. Hijinks once again ensue and once everyone arrives in place to the character situations we were prepared for in the trailer Plemons’ Prince Joachim erupts from the water and begins shooting. They get away as expected, there’s too much runtime left for a quick offing, for those of us checking our watches, and we get 30-40 minutes more of dad jokes(a personal favorite of mine), character development that isn’t sloppy, and fun asides. Then it begins to slip, the sexless heap of a man that is Dwayne Johnson begins to visually long toward Blunt, the joviality of very flawed crazy human characters is eschewed for CG conquistadors that make one long for the old days of Davy Jones’ lifelike depiction in the Pirates series 15 years ago, and the charm of it all evaporates the further down the river we go.

The legend we’re introduced to in the beginning of the film turns out to be real. And it appears our characters goose is cooked. Character secrets get revealed. We hear the full legend of Aguirre, and it’s pitifull when mentally compared against the Herzog classic. Magic flowers(our MacGuffin from the beginning) that may grant eternal life/heal all ailments/lift curses are now every characters absolute goal. The eyerolling romance between Blunt and Johnson is forced. Disney isn’t backing down though, and rather than let any relationship between the two megastars simmer just out of frame they opt instead to give us a tropey underwater sequence where they *have* to lock lips to exchange oxygen(Really? This took you 7 writers to figure out?). It’s a boorish character choice, and one that stands in stark contrast to the self aware dialogue spewed by both Johnson and Whitehall the first half of the film. I won’t give away the finale, but I will say the cruise does indeed come to an end. For now at least the Jungle Cruise ride has a story. Let’s hope the next time Disney puts a portion of their theme park on the big screen they use half as many writers, and keep things more on the rails.



Jungle Cruise Trailer

Jungle Cruise is currently screening theatrically and on Disney+

F9: The Fast Saga

Written by Alexander Reams

56/100

The laws of physics have unknowingly or knowingly been the backbone of the human race since the dawn of time. Countless times films have tried to disregard those laws, with some succeeding even without them, and some have crashed and burned spectacularly (looking at you Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight). Ever since its resurgence in pop culture in 2011 with the wildly successful Fast Five, the Fast & Furious franchise has continued to be less and less realistic (I’m sorry but Dwayne Johnson moving a torpedo’s trajectory with his bare hands is amazing, but a stretch at best). This continuation of less grounded films peaked in 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw and now they have gone too far. 

The film is continuing the story of Dominic Toretto and crew, including his wife, Letty Ortiz, Tej Parker, Roman Pierce, sister Mia Toretto, and mysterious hacker Ramsey. The plot of the movie is one that we’ve seen thousands of times, the crew needs to get a “thing” so that the bad guys don’t. That’s it. That is the entire plot. The twist here is that the “bad guy” is Dom’s long lost brother, Jakob Toretto. Yes, they are continuing their streak of doing soap opera tropes but with a budget, and the script certainly feels like one at times. The question that has been asked since the film came out is “Who is at fault?” The answer is clear, the screenwriter, or in this case, screenwriters. This is the first film in the franchise since The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift that Chris Morgan has not written, and he was a driving force behind keeping this series in control of itself and never going too far fetched and keeping the stakes real. This time Justin Lin, Daniel Casey, and Alfredo Botello are the writers of the film and it reads as if they scoured the reddit forums and just threw countless ideas at a wall and saw what stuck. 

Read Alexander’s Fast and Furious Franchise Retrospective

Justin Lin is not only a writer on the film, he returns after a 8 year hiatus from the franchise. His return not only brought a level of hype back to the franchise that I had not felt since 2013 when James Wan was announced as the director of Furious 7. It also brought a level of expectation of quality that I had associated with Lin’s work in the franchise. He is responsible for two of my favorite entries of the franchise Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6. Unfortunately I felt that we did not get the maturing and exciting Justin Lin that did Star Trek: Beyond here, it seemed like we got Fast & Furious (2009) Justin Lin, which as you might know, is the only entry that does not work for me on any level. While his quieter moments do not work, he undeniably has a great eye for shooting action set pieces. Particularly a car chase with Dame Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel through the streets of London and an early jungle chase in Montequinto with the crew. His pacing throughout these scenes is masterfully done and is never too frenetic or too quick to jump cut.

Han’s death in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift was a shocking and heartbreaking moment in the franchise, even more so after seeing him in entries 4-6. His character was my personal favorite and his constant snacking became one of my first thoughts whenever Fast & Furious comes into conversation. When it was revealed that he would be back for F9 my excitement went through the roof. However my excitement was reduced when I began to think about how he would be brought back. I should have tempered my expectations far further than I had. I won’t delve into spoilers but, the explanation given is one of the biggest half baked explanations of the entire franchise. Bringing Han back also took away any sense of stakes and consequences, now anyone can be brought back, no matter dead, disintegrated, melted, etc. 

F9 is a muddled mess, from the story, to performances, Charlize Theron is acting like she is in a completely different film and constantly made me feel like I was watching a Razzie Awards clipshow of horrendous lines. While I do not believe this film to be anywhere near the greatness of entries 5-7 or Hobbs & Shaw there is enjoyment to be found throughout. If you go into the film thinking of it not as an action film, but as a comedy, you might find much more enjoyment. Let us all hope that the 2 part finale will be far superior, Chris Morgan, please, I beg of you, please return to the franchise. 

F9: The Fast Saga Trailer

F9: The Fast Saga is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Retrospective Feature: Fast & Furious Saga

Written by Alexander Reams

What started out as a glorified Point Break ripoff has snowballed into one of the biggest action franchises of all time and also one of the biggest soap operas in history. A series spanning 20 years, 8 films, 1 spin off, and a countless array of cars destroyed. Before the newest comes out, join me as I briefly discuss each film, note important characters introduced and events in the film. 

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

The Fast and the Furious (2001) 

Dir. Rob Cohen

45/100

In the early 2000s, countless films wanted to be a part of the glory days of the 1990s action films. Then a street racing film full of relatively unknown actors released in the summer of 2001. While The Fast and the Furious is a fun summer movie, its style is far too frenetic and juvenile to warrant repeated viewings. Specifically the race war scene and the race between Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) are fun to watch. There was no plan for sequels when this came out, and despite this the groundwork was being laid for a massive franchise. Besides introducing Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Michelle Rodriguez, the film introduces the budding relationship between Jordana Brewster’s “Mia Torretto” and Brian O’Connor. 

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Dir. John Singleton

42/100

Before I even begin to critique the film as a whole, I cannot ignore the absolute stupidity of the title. There were so many different options to choose from, with the most obvious probably being the best one, The Fast and the Furious 2. Now, at the height of mid-2000s fashion, the newest Fast and Furious came out, and directed by John Singleton?! The same director from Boyz n’ the Hood and Shaft (2000). How could he make such a terrible film? The missing piece is Vin Diesel, the bond he and Walker formed in the first film is broken by the absence of Diesel and takes away a massive pull to watching this series. In the end it makes this one of the least rewatchable films in the franchise.

Groundwork laid: Introduction of Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Ludacris).  

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Dir. Justin Lin

61/100

After the critical and commercial failure of the previous film. Universal brought in fresh blood to direct, Justin Lin, who was coming off the critical success of Better Luck Tomorrow. As well as a brand new cast including Lucas Black, Sung Kang, and 2000’s icon Lil Bow Wow. This is also the first time that the series had shown real stakes in the death of Sung Kang’s “Han Seoul-Oh”. While also introducing another world of racing that had not been shown on film before. The style Lin brought to the film was similar to what had previously been done before, however it had more finesse of a better director which made the film far superior than the previous entries. The only connection to the previous films that appeared in this film was Vin Diesel in a cameo role at the end. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: Introduction of Han Seoul-Oh and Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). Also providing the catalyst for Furious 7 to start off from. 

Fast & Furious (2009)

Dir. Justin Lin 

35/100

Unfortunately the fun from the previous film would run out here. Widely regarded to be the worst of the franchise and deservedly so. There is not much I can bash about that hasn’t already been said about this film. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: To account for absences, this is set between 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Also the introduction of Leo and Santos. As well as the crime lord Arturo Braga and Gal Gadot’s Gisele.

Fast Five (2011)

Dir. Justin Lin

76/100

The first time that the franchise was truly celebrated by critics and audiences alike. A true reinvention of the franchise that was full of life and joy. As well as being one of the best heist films of the 21st century. Bringing together everyone that has been introduced in the previous films to form a crew who are all on the point of desperation. Dom, Mia, and Brian are all fugitives after breaking Dom out from prison. However with all of that added stress, Dwayne Johnson joins the cast as Agent Luke Hobbs chasing down the fugitives. Add in wonderfully choreographed action and an amazing finale and you have one of the best action films of the 2010s. 

Groundwork Laid: First time the team works together as a whole, introduction of Dwayne Johnson’s “Luke Hobbs”. Evidence that Letty is alive appears in a post credit scene. 

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Dir. Justin Lin

78/100

After the excitement of the heist in Brazil, the team go their separate ways until Luke Hobbs bring them back in to take down Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who has employed an amnesiac Letty to his crew. Yes, the franchise has brought in the very common soap opera trope of “amnesia”. Justin Lin continues his streak of filming the franchise very well, and still keeping the characters and the story first. 

Groundwork Laid: Introduction of the Shaws. 

Furious 7 (2015)

Dir. James Wan 

82/100

For the first time in 9 years, a Fast & Furious movie was not helmed by Justin Lin, but horror breakout star, James Wan. Wan brings a very new style to the franchise and a new way of shooting the film. His way of shooting action makes it more comprehensible for audiences to consume. While continuing the story of the team, it also introduces a new villain, and brother of the previous antagonist, Deckard Shaw, played wonderfully by Jason Statham. As well as shadow figure “Mr. Nobody” played by a gleefully weird Kurt Russell. 

Groundwork & Timeline Information: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift takes place between Furious 7 and Fast & Furious 6. Showing that Tokyo Drift was a spinoff about what Han does after the death of his lover Gisele. It is also revealed that Deckard Shaw killed Han in retribution for what was done to his brother. Also the introduction of the hacker “Ramsey” played by GOT star Nathalie Emmanuel. 

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Dir. F. Gary Gray

68/100

The latest in the main storyline of Fast & Furious sees Dom go rogue for unknown reasons… until they are known. A trope that has been done before, but not to the extreme that happens here. The New York City sequence alone proves that. However this does revert back to putting action and set pieces before story and characters which does take away the stakes of the film and is frustrating to say the least. However it is still a fun watch nonetheless. 

Groundwork Laid: Introduction of “super hacker” Cipher played by a dreads wearing Charlize Theron. Also confirming that Dom had a son with former flame Elena (Elsa Pataky).