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Star Power 

Red Notice and Finch

click to enlarge No idea where we parked.

Red Notice

No idea where we parked.

RED NOTICE. For the right project, it's hard to imagine a better starting trio than Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds. They've got the sarcasm, charisma and sex appeal that one imagines audiences long for in movie stars. And as these three continue to work steadily in the spotlight, most of us are on board. One wonders, though, if any of them has really found the aforementioned right project, individually or collectively.

Red Notice perhaps isn't it. (The plot's a bit of globe-trotting about art thieves and a federal agent pursuing them. No fair guessing who's who.) Or maybe it is, and I should just abandon my hope for something more compelling or elevated. The movie did, however, open to Netflix's widest single-event viewership to date. What that means, either about the tastes of the audience or the movie industry at large, like so much else in contemporary life, remains to be seen.

The thing I'm wrestling with is the notion of star power in the modern world: Do movie stars hold a position of significance, or even relevance? Are the stars of Red Notice really movie stars or, as I have become more inclined to think, a new hybrid, thrust forth by a perhaps-dying industry to fill the void between screen-stars of old and the manufactured identities and influencers of the social media age?

Johnson, at least according to the statistics, is the most successful actor we've got. He is at the center of more projects than I care to consider and he earns bigger than anybody. But even he migrated to the industry from another, newer, more hustle-based one. He's remade himself, from a heel to a hero to everybody's favorite bodybuilder uncle. His acumen is remarkable, business sense all-but impeccable and he makes for a compelling screen presence. But even he may not actually be a Movie Star, despite what the marketing would have us believe.

Gadot, likewise, has made an outstanding Wonder Woman, seems very adept at the red carpet and isn't above taking a few comedic risks. And Reynolds, whom I've quietly championed, if only for his acerbic delivery and unrelenting commitment to breaking through, has been instrumental in the success of the Deadpool franchise; it's debatable whether those movies would even exist without him. But his greatest successes — and Gadot's, arguably — have been in roles somewhat peripheral to the more major players in comic book adaptations (read: the apparent future of cinema).

But star power, by my probably outmoded metric, is something more ephemeral and yet somehow more substantial: the ability to command the attention not only of the audience, but of the camera. It's a skill — studied, innate, probably both —understanding the dynamics of a performance as it plays out onscreen, after being re-shot and edited and sound-edited and color-corrected and marketed ad nauseum; it's the creation of moments that can transcend all the time and the tinkering between their inception and our observation of them.

Even some of the greats have been laid low by bad writing, the meddling of egos or simple distrust. And clearly, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, seems to be as stuck in two eras as Johnson, with whom he previously collaborated on Central Intelligence (2016) and Skyscraper (2018). Thurber, at play on the big stage, with big names and bigger budgets, is clearly enamored of the action-comedies of the '80s upon which so many of us suckled. Even though he acknowledges those influences (maybe here more than ever), his homage doesn't do much to move the material in any direction, much less forward. There was and is a sense of danger and discovery to the movies of that bygone era that just isn't present here. Style for style's sake, sure, but not really in service of the story or the audience's enjoyment. And maybe the cast is perfect by that standard: superficially available and accessible but ultimately more restricted and manufactured than in days past. PG13. 118M. NETFLIX

FINCH. I didn't intend for this to be such a distinct contrast, and I won't belabor it because it makes me feel old, and the last time I liked a sentient robot movie (Chappie, 2015) people made fun of me.

But I quite liked Finch, a sort of sorrowful buddy comedy set in the near future, after a solar flare, electromagnetic pulse and the savagery of humanity has rendered most of the United States all but uninhabitable.

Whereas Red Notice can put three of our marquee stars into exquisite clothes, cracking wise and sexy inside an oligarch's manse bristling with guns, but still fails to produce a remarkable sequence, Finch gives Tom Hanks a dog and a homebuilt sidekick named Jeff (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones) for scene partners and it's impossible to look away.

Would I rather look at the stars of Red Notice? I would have thought so. But Hanks brings a yeoman-like quality to his performance that transcends notions of celebrity and cool; he's a movie star in that he can make every frame memorable, with words or without. PG13. 115M. APPLE TV+.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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