SAS: Red Notice is the latest Sky Original film to premiere on the satellite platform and unfortunately it’s another dead duck. Based on the book of the same name by Andy McNab, the plot is about a family-based, terrorist group known as the “Black Swans” who take over the Channel Tunnel. Interpol’s “Red Notice” (which alerts police worldwide to internationally wanted fugitives) gives this film its title (at least I think it does, although in S.A.S. terms it could mean a government sanctioned hit). Regardless of its meaning, the main part of the storyline (the hi-jacking) takes almost half-an-hour to get to, and once it does, it’s not exactly enthralling. The film begins with a preamble about “psychopaths” delivered by Tom Wilkinson’s character William Lewis who goes on to say “psychopaths who can learn to love are as rare as a black swan”. This I assume, refers to his baddie daughter Grace played by Ruby Rose or possibly the good guy Tom played by Sam Heughan. This kind of wannabe poignant dialogue is pointless to ponder over however, since this isn’t a character study of someone taught to kill and the parallels between the military and terrorists, or whether someone can switch off their violent tendencies and become compassionate. What this is, is a load of D-list actors saying “awight mate” a lot, posturing, chewing gum to look butch, and shooting guns, largely in the dark. Oh, and apparently, the elite of the elite in the S.A.S. are also bilingual botanists.
I’ll admit that I haven’t and probably never will read an Andy McNab novel, so I’m judging this adaptation against similar action movies. The plot to me, seems very late-80s or early-90s, very much like Ruby Rose’s bowl hair cut. SAS: Red Notice wishes it was in the same company as the original The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three, Die Hard, and every classic derivative action movie such as Speed, Under Siege, and Executive Decision but it’s instead more of a Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff-type flick.
Directed by Magnus Martens, the look and feel is more “TV” than cinema, and bad television at that. Magnus can’t seem to coax a believable performance out of anyone, and that’s alongside his appalling framing and camera movement, not to mention the seemingly non-existent art direction which leaves us with what looks like a home-made movie. The cast aren’t much better. Aside from the always decent Tom Wilkinson, the acting talent is also firmly in made-for-TV territory. We have Noel Clarke looking as convincing as Major Bisset as his Detective Inspector in Bulletproof, Anne Reid who played Jean in dinnerladies is still Jean from dinnerladies, and Andy Serkis plays Clements by overacting and probably wishing he was dressed in spandex and covered in white dots playing a different kind of gorilla.
We also have the aforementioned Sam Heughan as Tom or Thomas Buckingham III, a contrived yet somehow unbelievable rich, posh, heterosexual white male who lives in what looks like Wayne Manor with a butler not too dissimilar to Batman’s. Sam is a terrible, soap-opera-esque actor and as the lead, he’s the main reason why this film looks so cheap and tacky. Bad acting doesn’t end with Heughan however; we also have Ruby Rose playing his arch-nemesis Grace Lewis.
I suppose it’s progress to see a British Prime Minister played by a person of colour (Ray Panthaki) and someone from the LGBTQ community play the villain or antagonist in an action film but Panthaki is essentially a one-term baddun, and Rose is so lacking in charisma and acting skills that she won’t be spoken about in the same breath as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber or even Eric Bogosian’s Travis Dane, which kind of defeats the purpose. Grace Lewis is instead, in the same league as Thomas Gabriel or Alik from the inferior Die Hard sequels. Rose can’t even act like she’s been shot in the neck or smile convincingly with her “this isn’t a disguise” wig on whilst trying to ward off authorities, let alone look menacing or have a knife-fight (or spoiler alert: die).
Whilst on the topic of Grace, her tactic of “kill the men and the boys, leave the women to spread the fear” conveniently leaves out the all-too-common rape and torture. Make no mistake, this is a sanitised view of conflict where mercenaries, contractors, war criminals, and terrorists are completely unconnected to any military unit. The film begins with contractors tasked to clear a village in Georgia in order to lay a pipe line, and this seems very War On Terror and Black Water-esque (especially the name “Black Swans”) but the way in which this story is told, it’s less Iraq and more Tie Rack with a bunch of suits trying to make some soulless and shallow money from militarism. There’s no real opinion on whether contractors should be used in war, it’s more “it’s okay until they leave witnesses” which is a dodgy message to convey. That being said, even our hero Thomas hears his butler recount a story of Buckingham’s forefathers chopping off a Maharaja’s finger during an Indian “uprising” in order to take their ring, which means even the protagonist has a lineage of wrongdoing but I’m sure viewers of this trash will glaze over this. In order to bolster the concept of “good guys can do no wrong”, the wedding vows at the end of the film are cringe-worthy and go to show how not only the writers, but everyone involved in making this crapfest, love the idea of the infallible war hero who cannot and should not be criticised (or prosecuted) because they do such a difficult job… “For better, for worse, in war [and] in peace, knowing that in war, your crazy brain is always right”. 🤮
Whether pro-war or anti-terror or just unadulterated militarism, all this criticism is of course pointless to mention, as nobody watching Red Notice is looking for deep, meaningful subtext and opinion-challenging concepts. The camouflage-covered cinematic cliches of “this isn’t what I signed-up for!” and “take the shot!” are both present which means this is a hackneyed, straight-to-streaming, non-action, action film. I wouldn’t have minded if this shite contained a plot about what great jobs snipers do or how difficult counter terrorism is, instead it’s another mindless, gung-ho release. And while I’m at it: who gives a toss about what happens to a fictitious government and this film’s uninteresting characters during the end credits? Please don’t make a sequel or try to start a franchise about the exploits of Tom effing Buckingham the pissing Third!
As a Sky Original, I have to mention the inclusion of Sky News presenters Gamal Fahnbulleh and Jayne Secker (and Ben bloody Shephard of ITV’s Good Morning Britain) doing some suspiciously, similar-to-real-life acting. Similar to Jeremy Thompson in Shaun Of The Dead, the news casters’ or broadcasters’ acting looks as convincing as the actual news and their “breaking news” bulletins are read with the same vigour. Ignoring the fact that Sky are both feeding and eating itself in the creation of this film, it’s always disconcerting to see real-life news presenters read scripts as well as they do on air, which goes to show they’re not journalists but actors who err… read scripts for a living. But I guess that’s for another article.
Back to the film, no matter its formulaic-ness, it would have been a much better idea for John McTiernan to direct SAS: Red Notice, for the sole purpose to try and get his post-prison reputation back to the level of his original Die Hard and Hunt For Red October heyday. I’d like to think that the maker of the original action masterpiece from which all others originate could surely make even the lamest of scripts buzz with exhilaration? Instead, thanks to a director who cannot direct, especially action scenes, I wasn’t thrilled or excited at all.
Apparently notices of the rouge variety are very popular right now because confusingly, there’s a Dwayne Johnson “Red Notice” movie in the works too, unconnected to the McNab book but an action flick nevertheless. One thing’s for certain: this version isn’t the one that stands out. Even with a large Andy McNab fanbase, this is gonna go…