A Rock and a Reynolds meet a Gal in 'Red Notice' : Pop Culture Happy Hour What has a wisecracking Ryan Reynolds, a glamorous Gal Gadot, a muscled Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and a very convoluted story about priceless eggs? It's the new Netflix action comedy Red Notice, which combines cars, boats and secret safes with ballroom dancing and a jailbreak — all in the same frame as three big-budget action leads.

A Rock and a Reynolds meet a Gal in 'Red Notice'

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What has a wisecracking Ryan Reynolds, a glamorous Gal Gadot, a bemuscled (ph) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and a very convoluted story about priceless eggs? It's the new action comedy "Red Notice." It's got cars and boats and secret safes to crack. It's got ballroom dancing and a jailbreak. And you can check it out on your couch, because it's come straight to Netflix. I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're talking about "Red Notice" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Here with me is one half of the Two Bossy Dames newsletter and one third of the "Appointment Television" podcast, Margaret Willison. Welcome back, Margaret.


HOLMES: Also joining us is Ronald Young, Jr. He is the host of the Pushkin podcast "Solvable." Hello, Ronald.


HOLMES: And last but not least, we have our pal and our punching and fighting specialist, writer Chris Klimek - great to have you back, Chris.

CHRIS KLIMEK, BYLINE: Hi, Linda. I want to say I'm also at least 2/3 of the "Degree Absolute!" podcast.


KLIMEK: I can't even remember the other guy's name on that one. And I'm really feeling the mana here - serious mana, serious mana.

HOLMES: I hear you. I hear you. It's a little bit pointless to talk about this movie in terms of plot. But such as it is, here it goes. Dwayne Johnson plays a guy named John Hartley, who's an FBI profiler, chasing an art thief named Nolan Booth, played by Ryan Reynolds. Now, you get no points for figuring out that this odd couple will eventually be forced to work together, specifically to chase after an even better art thief known as The Bishop and played by Gal Gadot. This was written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who's worked with Johnson before in "Central Intelligence" and "Skyscraper." By the way, "Skyscraper" - still very proud of my headline - building-sized giant fights giant-sized building.


HOLMES: As you might expect, this movie has got action sequences and every drop of smarm - intentional, knowing smarm - that you can extract from Ryan Reynolds. And you should know that the whole thing hinges on three jeweled eggs that were supposedly given to Cleopatra as gifts. Everybody's looking for the eggs, hiding the eggs, chasing the eggs. So it would not be unfair to point out, as I have and now will again, that this movie has an egg MacGuffin.


HOLMES: Chris, what was your impression of this bit of silliness?

KLIMEK: My impression was meh. I mean, having conducted a long-term study of the filmography of Dwayne Johnson now - I discussed "Skyscraper" with you and Margaret on this very show. I wrote about "Skyscraper." I wrote about "Central Intelligence." I just - in terms of cinematic appreciation, what I want to ask Dwayne Johnson - do you even lift, bro?


KLIMEK: Because I really feel like the biggest movie star in the world has never seen a movie that he didn't star in. So I mean, this is really just right perfectly into his filmography. It is a 27-way tie for second place if you try to rank them. Like, everything is sort of a watery, vague version of a better movie. If you like the sort of fizzy, escapist quips and intrigue milieu that this movie, "Red Notice," is trying to create, let me point you towards the 2015 "Man From U.N.C.L.E." reboot that Guy Ritchie did - not a hit, but much sharper, much funnier, more buoyant and elegant, also real locations.

I mean, I can't really slam this the way I want to slam all the Marvel movies because I know it was shot during COVID. But, you know, there is a section of the press notes for this movie, "Red Notice," that is headlined - not even making this up - Atlanta, gateway to the world.


KLIMEK: This is a bunch of screensaver-y (ph), green screen BS. You do not get the exotic locales, the sense of travel, that you get watching a "Bond" movie, watching "Tenet," watching any "Mission Impossible," which was also shot during COVID, and they still didn't shoot it at a parking lot in Atlanta. So you get the production value that you are supposed to get from a movie like this. Like, it's OK. But I watched it, like, two nights ago, and I've already forgotten...


KLIMEK: ...Ninety-five percent of it.

HOLMES: I think that's fair.

WILLISON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Ronald, how about you, bud?

YOUNG: I think this movie - I think one of the words that came to mind for this was smug. This movie is very, very smug. It wore on me for a while from the very beginning because it felt like The Rock showed up to do a normal Rock movie and be his serious self, but they didn't even really let him get to crack jokes in this movie, which I think kind of took away from it for me. It just made it just a smug-off between Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot.

And I think, like, maybe about 2/3 of the way through the movie, I realized that Ryan Reynolds was just being Deadpool without a mask. And I really had a problem with that because at one point, he actually references how they were going to rob one of the eggs. As he's explaining this to The Rock, mentions featured extras. And I'm like, OK, so he's breaking the fourth wall in this movie. I'm like, I don't understand why this is happening or why he's acting like this in this film. And maybe I'm going to end up going after Ryan Reynolds a lot for this movie, but it felt like, after seeing something like "Free Guy" or any of the other Ryan Reynolds work that he does, he has more range than this. But it felt like he typecast himself in this film, particularly, and it kind of - it was hard to watch for me for that reason.

All of the things that Chris said, I agree with. I felt like watching this movie - I'm like, this seems very cheap. And I remember also thinking that Universal probably got the better end of this deal by selling this to Netflix, as that's how it ended up on Netflix because this is 100% a Saturday movie that I wouldn't even pay attention to. I would just, like, pick a different task and have this on in the background. I wouldn't even face the actual television to watch it.


YOUNG: But that being said, I mean, there was one joke that I did laugh at that was towards the end of the movie, which was - they pointed out that - there's a point where Ryan Reynolds is eating some cheese. And Gal Gadot says to Ryan Reynolds, that's not gouda. That's uncooked pork. And I laughed out loud.


YOUNG: And I remember thinking, why couldn't the whole movie just be more of these types of jokes?

KLIMEK: I mean, I laughed at the part where Ryan Reynolds was seen drinking his own brand of gin.

WILLISON: Yes. Oh, my God.

KLIMEK: And then in the next scene, Dwayne Johnson is served his own tequila. Again, like, I feel like movies are just brand extension...

YOUNG: Yeah.

KLIMEK: ...For Johnson in particular.

HOLMES: I didn't even notice that.

KLIMEK: Oh, yes.

WILLISON: Oh, it's when he gets the house in Bali. Aviation Gin has a very specific bottle. And he just pours a little bit of that liquor right into a glass. And I was like, this is a moment, Ryan Reynolds, where I bet you wish you had a celebrity tequila brand like everyone else instead of a gin brand because you know what you don't do with gin? Drink it straight.


WILLISON: Sipping gin - I've had them, but they're not a common thing. And I doubt that Aviation Gin is that.


YOUNG: Yeah.

KLIMEK: As soon as that happened, I started counting down. I was like, OK, and now we're going to get the Teremana bottle in three, two - what? There it is. There it is.


HOLMES: So other than the sipping gin...

WILLISON: Other than the gin spotting?

HOLMES: Yeah. What'd you think?

WILLISON: What was my experience of this movie? Well, as Chris says, I'm on the record as being a fan of "Skyscraper," or as I like to know it, "Die Hard XXL."


WILLISON: But I got to say that this one, "Thomas Crown Affair: Tokyo Drift," didn't nail it for me.


WILLISON: I found the experience a little bit like drinking flat soda. Like, you can taste all of the places where the fizz is supposed to be. There were definitely lines that I went, ha, I recognize that structure, and less like, I am tickled by this. And we had someone talk about Dwayne. We had someone talk about Ryan. I'm here to talk a little bit about Gal.

I found her just staggeringly flat in this role. And there were just scenes where, like, I wanted her to pop more than she was. I mean, obviously stunning; fight choreography was pretty cool. There was a great fight sequence at the beginning that almost had a little Jackie Chan land, where Ryan Reynolds was, like, climbing scaffolding and pulling pins out and making people fall. I was like, God, I'm here for this. But by and large, there were a lot of things that didn't work for me.

HOLMES: Yeah. You guys...


WILLISON: No, Linda. Linda, this is a safe space.

KLIMEK: Oh, come on, Linda.

HOLMES: I don't know what happened. I really liked - I enjoyed this movie a lot. I don't know what happened.

KLIMEK: Well, welcome to the "Man Of Steel" chair, Linda.


KLIMEK: Settle in. I hope you...


KLIMEK: I have sat in that chair so many times on this show. I welcome...

WILLISON: The Chris Klimek Memorial "Man Of Steel" Chair (laughter).

HOLMES: It may be that my expectations were just so tightly controlled that they were exactly met. Do you know what I mean? Like, I felt like I absolutely am more forgiving of things that are coming out on Netflix that, A, they don't expect you to pay for a separate ticket for and parking and drinks...


HOLMES: ...And stuff - and that you can, like, stop and start and get up and go to the kitchen and do something and come back. Like, I do have a different set of expectations for how riveting I expect a movie to be. I also think that these guys, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, are both guys that I like in movies, but I don't love in movies. I mean, I love The Rock being The Rock. Like, that's all fine. But I'm not like, oh, my gosh, I can't wait for the next The Rock movie.

KLIMEK: It's a good thing, too, Linda, because you'd have to wait, like, two months.


KLIMEK: I mean, he definitely shows his love...

HOLMES: I know.

KLIMEK: ...Of film by making nine movies a year.


HOLMES: In terms of Gal Gadot, I mean, to me, she's doing the, like, glamorous, beautiful lady...

WILLISON: Crushing it on that front.

HOLMES: ...You know, who maybe is hiding something. Like - and I kind of felt like it worked for me. I do think - like, when Ronald says this movie is smug, that's like not the half of it, right?


HOLMES: I found myself thinking, like, why is this working on me? Like, this Ryan Reynolds bit should be very annoying to me based on what I know about myself because it is so smug and because it is so, like, dude - snarky dude. Like - and I don't know. It did work on me in this incarnation, partly because I think the two of them together make each other look ridiculous, which I appreciated.

I agree with Margaret that the early action sequence is a lot of fun, and it may be that that moved me into a frame of mind that was much more forgiving because I can't disagree with anything that any of you have said at all, right? I think that first - what I liked about that action sequence - and this is something I mentioned to the rest of the podcast team when I was the one making the call that we should cover this movie - it has a lot of what I call oof (ph) fighting life as opposed to, like, bloody fighting, splatter fighting.


HOLMES: It's just people going, oof - like, getting pushed around, shoved, punched in the gut, pushed off of something, thrown out of a car, but like, probably not killed - like, just a little oof.

KLIMEK: There's also a section of the press notes entitled family-friendly action, Linda.

HOLMES: Well, I'm glad because I absorbed that, right? There are a ton of guns in this movie, but I'm not sure anyone gets killed with one.

WILLISON: Well, there's a machine gun mounted on a helicopter that's used with an abandoned that I found staggering and weird.

HOLMES: But even in that situation...

WILLISON: Right. You don't see anyone die.

HOLMES: ...It's very not graphic. It's almost like you could believe this is a gun that just knocks people down. Like, it's done to be that way.

WILLISON: (Laughter) Maybe it's just, like, a tennis ball gun.

KLIMEK: It's a T-shirt cannon promoting Teremana probably.


HOLMES: There is also a lot of it where they just go with people flipping and pushing and shoving and oof-punching each other. And I do actually prefer that kind of sequence to endless shots of people getting shot in the head. Like, I do appreciate that.


HOLMES: I don't know. I was transported to Atlanta - to a parking lot in Atlanta.


KLIMEK: To Metro Studios in Underton (ph), Ga., just minutes outside of suburban Atlanta.

WILLISON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: It's a fascinating thing to me because the reviews have overwhelmingly so far agreed with all of y'all and not with me. And I wasn't - I just wasn't expecting it to be so kind of rejected out of hand. I was like, but then you would hate all the movies that both of these guys do 'cause this is what they do.

YOUNG: I will say, looking at both The Rock's other movies and this director Rawson Marshall Thurber's other movies like "Dodgeball," "Central Intelligence" and "Skyscraper." I liked "Central Intelligence" and "Skyscraper." And, of course, "Dodgeball" is a classic. But I think with "Central Intelligence" - I think it's really underrated about the chemistry between Kevin Hart and The Rock.

And I didn't see that chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and The Rock. I mean, there were parts in there where they actually wrote in there for The Rock to finish a joke that felt really lame. At one point, Ryan Reynolds is going to leave The Rock in a helicopter. And The Rock catches up to him. And there's a look that exchanges between them, which I feel like, as an audience member, I get it. You were going to leave me. Here's the look. Move on. But they actually have a conversation about it in the movie.

WILLISON: (Laughter).

YOUNG: And I'm like, this feels very stilted. And there were several times where it was The Rock being forced to be, like, an extra-straight man in terms of the jokes. And I think that was due to the lack of chemistry between them. That being said, Linda, it wasn't not fun...


YOUNG: ...(Laughter) you know, I mean? It just - it wasn't - if you're going to do a zany movie like this, I'm like, then show me "Fast And Furious," where at least I could just groan and be like, oh, they're trying to be ridiculous. Whereas this one, I don't know if they were trying.

WILLISON: And on that note, I think I would have enjoyed this movie significantly more if I had seen it in a theater - right? - and had some sense of, like, an audience surrounding me while we processed the absurdity that was the film. And "Skyscraper" I don't think would have worked for me sitting at home on my couch, right? There's a certain type of movie that benefits from a theater experience. And I think this movie is trying to be that type of movie, at the very least. And I will say that I think the problem I had with it was the lack of chemistry between the leads as well. Like, if you'd told me none of them had been in the same room during filming, I would have been like, honestly, it explains a lot.


WILLISON: Like, so many things to fall into place for me here.


KLIMEK: Yeah, the - is it a tango? Is that what Gadot and Johnson do together? Yeah, I...

HOLMES: He is a terrible dancer.

WILLISON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: I will say that - Dwayne Johnson, not a dancer.

KLIMEK: Linda, I want to say, everyone just go back and look at "True Lies." Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis do a much better tango together...


KLIMEK: ...Than Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot.


KLIMEK: I'm sorry. Arnold did it better.

YOUNG: He did.

WILLISON: One of the few times we can say it.

HOLMES: All right. Well, look.


HOLMES: "Red Notice" is on Netflix.

WILLISON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Everyone's going to tell me that I'm wrong, and it's fine.

WILLISON: Aww (ph).

HOLMES: I don't mind. You're all correct. But I still think it's really fun. Tell us what you think. Find us at facebook.com/pchh or on Twitter - @pchh. Next up, What Is Making Us Happy This Week? We are turning the page.

Every week, we like to talk about what's making us happy this week. I am going to start with Chris Klimek. Chris, what is making you happy this week?

KLIMEK: Making me happy this week, Linda, are two works of literary nonfiction - one of them about some of my favorite songwriters, one of them by one of my favorite songwriters. First one is the book "Where The Devil Don't Stay: Traveling The South With The Drive-By Truckers." This is by the music journalist Stephen Deusner, who I was friendly with when he lived here in D.C. many years ago. This is sort of a band biography, combined with an examination of the author's own Southernness and their Southernness. This is a band that has really, really influenced my thinking about what the South is as a, you know, a cultural entity, in addition to a geographic destination, particularly in this century.

If you are turned off by any of this - if you were turned off, particularly by the band name Drive-By Truckers, let me refer you to the essay "Now, About The Bad Name I Gave My Band" by Patterson Hood, one of their two singer-songwriters. That appeared - where - oh, yes, it was on NPR in June 2020. He wrestles with the name. Everyone agrees - not a good name. But it is a great band.

And the other book I want to recommend is an Audible original audiobook. It's just a short one with some music. It is called "How To Play The Guitar And Y" - that's just the letter Y, as in Y Kant Tori Read - by one Declan Patrick McManus, better known by his professional name Elvis Costello. To me, Elvis has always been to pop music with Martin Scorsese is to cinema, in that he is a world-class practitioner and artist, but also a historian, curator, preservationist, educator, etc., etc., etc.

You know, as someone who's written a lot about music without knowing any theory or even having really the vocabulary to do it well, I really appreciated this 90-minute sort of music lesson mixed in with a little biography, a little criticism, a little commentary and little snatches of music. Hearing him read his own prose in his own sort of orotund performing voice is super-fun. So, again, that is my endorsement for the Audible original "How To Play The Guitar And Y" by Elvis Costello.

HOLMES: Thank you very much, Chris Klimek. That is your endorsement, by which you mean that is what is making you happy this week.

KLIMEK: I suppose.

HOLMES: Thank you very much. Ronald Young Jr., what is making you happy this week?

YOUNG: We had a conversation a couple of months ago about "Starstruck" and how much I really enjoyed the new phase of romantic comedies, where they're doing them in series or on shows way more than before. Well, Season 2 of "Love Life" just dropped on HBO Max. And let me tell you, I love this show. I liked the first season. I liked it a lot because I think what "Love Life" does that other romantic comedies don't do is actually show how your love life actually pans out. There's situationships (ph). There's problems. There's sparks. There's people that you kind of like, but the timing is never right. It covers that.

Well, Season 2 stars our good friend William Jackson Harper, aka Chidi from "The Good Place." And the writing, the acting, everything about this show is just - it's so on point for me. I felt somebody came into my own life and was like, hey; so this is what's going on with you? All right, let's put this into a documentary or a fictionalized form.

And this iteration of it - it's just so specific and so Black. I think a lot of people are watching "Insecure" and, like, really celebrating the ways in which it's groundbreaking for television in its Blackness, but in its relatability for everyone. And I think "Love Life" is quietly doing the same thing over here. It's not getting the same fanfare, even though it's on the same network, but it's on HBO Max rather than, you know, HBO original recipe. But I really, really, really would encourage people to watch this show. Watch the first season so you get a feel of how the show goes. It didn't resonate as much with me, but I enjoyed it. But this one, Season 2 with Chidi aka Marcus aka William Jackson Harper - watch it. It's fantastic. That's what's making me happy this week.

HOLMES: I agree with you completely. Margaret and I were doing a little chair dancing while you were talking about this. And I will say, you were kind enough not to say this, but I'm sure Margaret and I would both say this - among other things, he is so cute and he is so charming and he is so good.


HOLMES: And it is such a pleasure to watch him. And he is both a great actor and a snack.

YOUNG: Don't you love how they recycle that joke from "The Good Place" about him being secretly ripped under his clothes?

HOLMES: I know. I know. Thank you very much, Ronald. All right. Margaret Willison, what is making you happy this week?

WILLISON: Well, I got to go to my first concert since everything shut down. I was going to see Islands, but their opener was terrific. They were performing under the name Menno Versteeg - right? - which is the name of the lead singer and songwriter. However, he has only released one EP under that, and it's just covers, whereas literally last year, he released two albums under the name Mav Karlo. That was most of the material that he was performing. When I got my record from him, he, like, crossed the name Mav Karlo out and he wrote in Menno Versteeg. So obviously I was like, who is this international man of mystery? This is a clip of one of their songs so you can get a sense of what they sound like.


MENNO VERSTEEG: (Singing) I do, so say goodnight. Goodnight. Goodnight.

WILLISON: However, what I discovered by looking at his Wikipedia page is that you would know him better for this song...


ANNIE MURPHY: (Singing) I'm a little bit - la, la, la, la, la, la, la - a little bit Alexis - la, la, la, la, la, la, la - a little bit Alexis - la, la, la, la, la, la, la - a little bit Alexis. Hide your diamonds. Hide your exes. I'm a little bit Alexis.

HOLMES: Oh, wow.

WILLISON: ...Because it turns out Menno Versteeg is married to Annie Murphy of "Schitt's Creek" fame. The two of them wrote "A Little Bit Alexis." So...

HOLMES: There we go.

WILLISON: This is a very cool guy. He's done a lot of really interesting stuff in his life. These newest albums, whether he's going to be Menno or Mav - and I hope that this is me introducing you to somebody at the very sort of beginning of their career so that you can do what I've done with a lot of bands, which is see them from the $15-a-ticket venue to the $165-a-ticket venue. I don't always love it when they get to the top part of that range, but I'm always happy for them.

HOLMES: Very nice. Thank you very much, Margaret Willison. I am not going to talk about the Apple TV series "The Shrink Next Door" starring Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell. I have mixed feelings. But because I was watching the screeners of it, I wound up listening to the podcast. And I do recommend the podcast, which is a Wondery podcast of the same name, "The Shrink Next Door."

The first fascinating thing about "The Shrink Next Door," which is about this psychiatrist who essentially took over the life of one of his patients who was this wealthy man who had a house in the Hamptons - it gets very complicated. The guy, like, insinuated himself into the guy's business and family and persuaded him to break ties with most of the people he was close to.

The funniest thing about how it starts is that the podcast was hosted by and the whole thing was reported by the former New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, who starts off being like, well, I got to know this story because of how this incredibly rich guy's house in the Hamptons was right next door to mine...

WILLISON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Which is one of those moments where you're like, I hope the New York Times occasionally thinks about the fact that they're somewhat less likely to find a thing that's like, here's something that an incredibly poor person was going through that I found out about because their house was next to mine. But it is, once you get into it, a very interesting story, well-told. And I do understand why it motivated this TV show to be made with Paul Rudd as the psychiatrist and Will Ferrell as the patient and Kathryn Hahn as the sister of the patient. It is a very interesting listen, and I think if you're interested in this story, I personally think you get a little better telling of this story from going back to the original podcast.

Again, you can find that through Wondery. It's called "The Shrink Next Door." I do think it's a good podcast. See whether you're interested in checking out the show, which is about to drop on Apple TV, and see how you feel. Maybe you'll like it better than "Red Notice." And that is what is making me happy this week. And if you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, you can subscribe to our newsletter. It's at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.

You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @lindaholmes. You can find Ronald at @OhItsBigRon. You can follow Margaret at @MrsFridayNext. Chris is at @CTKlimek. Our editor Jessica Reedy is at @Jessica_Reedy. Our producer Candice Lim is at @TheCandiceLim. And our producer Jared Gair is at @JaredMGair. Our producer Rommel Wood is at @Blergisphere. And you can find our producer Mike Katzif, as always, at @MikeKatzif - K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band Hello Come In provides the music you are hopefully tapping your foot to right now. Thanks to all of you for being here to help me go through my complicated "Red Notice" feelings.

YOUNG: Thank you.

KLIMEK: Thank you.

YOUNG: Glad to be here for you.

WILLISON: Honestly an honor, Linda.

HOLMES: And thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all next week.

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