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Review: SAS: Red Notice (2021)

SAS: Red Notice (2021)

Directed by: Magnus Martens

Premise: A terrorist group hijacks the Channel Tunnel train in the middle of its route between the United Kingdom and France. As officials try to negotiate, a soldier (Sam Heughan) aboard the train wages asymmetrical warfare against the terrorists.

What Works: SAS: Red Notice looks and feels like a throwback to the action pictures of an earlier era and it has similar appeals. The movie is refreshingly unpretentious. This is a straightforward thriller full of shoot-’em-up action. Ruby Rose is cast as the villain and she is adequately threatening, conveying ruthlessness and violence but also intelligence. The picture also features Hannah John-Kamen in a supporting role as the hero’s girlfriend. Along with Rose, John-Kamen is the most interesting character in the film and she might have made a more compelling protagonist than the generic action hero the film provides us with.

What Doesn’t: After the release of Die Hard in 1988, the next decade of the action genre consisted of imitators that reiterated the scenario on a bus (Speed), a battleship (Under Siege), a mountain (Cliffhanger), and an airplane (Passenger 57) among other places. SAS: Red Notice is a throwback to those 1990s action pictures and it borrows from Die Hard even more blatantly than many of the films released at that time. Unfortunately, the filmmakers of SAS: Red Notice reproduce Die Hard’s structure and set pieces but not the critical elements that made the 1988 film so successful. This subgenre is buttressed on an underdog appeal. The more desperate and vulnerable the hero, the better. SAS: Red Notice doesn’t accomplish that. The protagonist of this film is nearly always successful and the story doesn’t raise the stakes or isolate the hero. The movie is overlong, spending far too much time on the setup and it goes on well after the main conflict has been resolved. SAS: Red Notice is clearly intended to set up a series of films but it is ill equipped to do that because the protagonist is so boring. One of the obnoxious trends of contemporary action pictures is utterly bland heroes whose only distinguishing characteristic is their scruffy beard. It’s hard to say if the problem is the script or actor Sam Heughan; the film doesn’t give him much to work with but Heughan doesn’t do anything with the role. The film flirts with the idea of psychopathy; it’s implied that both the hero and the villain are psychopaths which makes them efficient killers. That has interesting implications for this kind of action picture but the concept is used superficially and not in a way that makes any sense.

Bottom Line: SAS: Red Notice is the kind of action picture that would have once starred Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal. It’s serviceable enough as the kind of movie that plays on cable television on a Saturday afternoon.

Episode: #850 (May 9, 2021)