East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Red & the Black – a movie night

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Two nights ago I was feeling like some light entertainment, and so I scanned the list of the available movie on my streaming platforms. Because when you live in the sticks, streaming platforms are a life-saver.

And of course I set my sights on Netflix’s feature film, Red Notice – an action comedy caper featuring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds? That’s just what the doctor ordered after a long day writing and trying to put some order in my affairs.
So I got me a full teapot and my cat (yes, babies, this is as middle-aged as the Magna Charta) and I started the film.

Red Notice is a story about FBI agent Dwayne Johnson (he’s a profiler, even if he doesn’t look like one), trying to catch international art thief Ryan Reynolds, while international art thief Gal Gadot pulls the strings in the background. The target – a set of precious ostrich-size eggs that Mark Anthony gave to Cleopatra as a token of his affection.

The plot is essentially an overblown Lupin III adventure, with Johnson as Zenigata, Reynolds as Lupin and Gadot as Fujiko.

It is also the most soulless waste of time I have seen in a while – to the point that after half an hour I bailed out. And believe me, it takes some effort to rob Johnson, Gadot and Reynolds of all their charisma and charm, and turn them into muppets (and pretty poor muppets at that), but the people behind Red Notice managed to do it.
Granted, there’s the action, the family-oriented comedy, the Jackie Chan-style fights and a fair share of stuff that we’ve seen already in, as I mentioned, the Lupin III anime. But everything is cheap, stilted, and by the numbers.

It feels that the only selling point of the film is its cast, and very little effort was put into everything else. The action-cut-establishing shot- cut-exposition-cut-action formula is as artificial and lifeless as possible and the story is boring and peopled with characters we don’t care about in the least. As I said, no small feat, considering the stars involved.
The twists, for what they are, are predictable and second hand, the rhythm is slack and, in a few moments, the green screen effects are really bad.
And this is the first half-hour, and I really wanted to like it but I found the going extremely tiresome.
So I turned it off, and went looking for something else.

And I chanced upon Black Friday, a cheap ’80s-style horror, produced by Bruce Campbell – who gets a role as the ageing manager in a toy superstore besieged by mutant monsters on the night of the titular Black Friday.
Here there are no surprises – we have seen a thousand similar movies, with a bunch of random people trapped in a supermarket while zombie-like creatures run rampage. Fleeing Red Notice, I went into Black Friday with very low expectations.
And I got a nice surprise.

Black Friday is a by-the-numbers B-horror that manages to pack a few nice twists. The cast of losers spending their Thanksgiving night in a supermarket soon to be flooded by rabid shoppers looking for fake discounts (the scammy nature of Black Friday is quickly and nicely explained) gives an excellent performance, and while we are here for the gross-out nature of the monsters, the script still manages to attempt a very basic but heartfelt social critique. The unlikely heroes are besieged by mutant monsters, but what really gets them in a murderous rage is discovering they will not receive a bonus for the Black Friday, and soon afterwards they are likely to be fired to save the company more money.

While it probably cost a fraction of Red Notice, Black Friday is fun, the characters are likeable (or not – if they are not supposed to be), the effects are adequate. Indeed, there is more character development, more fun action and more savvy comedy in this little horror flick than in the Netflix blockbuster. Not a life-changing experience, but a fun movie for a night with a pot of tea and a purring cat.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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