Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds have, respectively, had a relatively good 2021 thanks to the pandemic success of their films Jungle Cruise and Free Guy. Now, they’re closing out their year together, in a new Netflix action comedy, Red Notice, also starring Gal Gadot (who has kept a low profile in 2021). The film comes from writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who has previously worked with Johnson on Skyscraper and Central Intelligence, so he knows how to use The Rock as both an action star and a comedy actor. At least from the teaser, it looks like Reynolds and Johnson have solid comedic chemistry and some decent fight scenes, so we’re headed in the right direction. And Gadot is doing what I hope is a legit spoof of a Bond villainess—as opposed to accidentally walking into that tone, which is something else entirely—and overall, I don’t hate the teaser. Red Notice looks decent enough for a year-end, stay-at-home weekend watch.
But it also looks like what I have come to think of as “a Netflix movie”, which is: entertaining but disposable. As in: immediately forgettable. I brought this up on Twitter a while back, that Netflix has a problem creating cultural moments out of movies. People immediately started name-checking Tiger King and The Crown, which are television shows, as examples of Netflix’s cultural supremacy. And yes, Netflix has long since cracked the code on launching culturally significant television shows. But films aren’t television, and while the quality and perception boundary between film and TV has essentially been obliterated in the last few years, as narratives, they still operate in very different ways, and we as an audience process them differently, too. We have always consumed TV shows at home, we are used to television phenomena starting in our living rooms. The whole idea of a “water cooler show” is that we’re all watching the same thing at the same time on a set schedule and talking about it the next day.
But films are different. Even now, as the balance of power is shifting toward home viewing over theaters, movies still need that communal experience to create a cultural moment. There has not been a streaming film that can compete with anything launched in theaters first. Sure, there are niche sensations like the rom-com revival we’ve seen fueled by Netflix, but Crazy Rich Asians has a far larger cultural footprint than Always Be My Maybe. And it affects the more prestigious fare, too. Films like Roma and The Irishman are legitimately good, worthy films which attract awards recognition, but good luck finding someone in the real world to discuss those films with. Though they get (half-assed) theatrical releases to appease cinema-conscious filmmakers, ultimately those films just get lost in the shuffle on Netflix, just one more tile in a sea of tiles spewing from the content hose on the homepage.
Eventually, we will get to a place where streaming can launch a culturally significant film, but we’re not there yet. I thought The Old Guard could be that film, but just over a year since its release and that is yet another Netflix movie with a surprisingly small cultural footprint, given its overall positive reception and that it came along during a summer in which there were no real blockbusters, clearing the path for a streaming movie to dominate The Culture. But it didn’t dominate the culture, it faded from view like all the others. Will Red Notice change that? Probably not. I expect it will be like all Netflix movies: it’ll be #1 for a couple weeks and within a couple months we’ll forget all about it and it will feel like it never happened at all. Not unlike that other Ryan Reynolds Netflix movie, 6 Underground. Remember 6 Underground? LOL of course you don’t. No one does.