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SAS: Red Notice (2021) Review

SAS: Red Notice begins with a narrator telling us the definition of a psychopath. We then fall into a conversation between Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose, The Doorman, The Meg) and her father William (Tom Wilkinson, Burke and Hare, The Titan) that perfectly illustrates it. They’re the leaders of a band of mercenaries, The Black Swans, and we know they’re pure evil from the start. “Kill the men and boys. Leave the women to spread the fear.” Which they proceed to do with weapons that include a flamethrower because burning people alive makes one hell of an impression.

The SAS including Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan, Bloodshot, Outlander)  is called out to deal with them, even though Her Majesty’s government hired them for the job. William is executed, Grace and her brother Oliver (Owain Yeoman, The Belko Experiment, Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2) escape. Recovering from the raid Tom takes his girlfriend Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen, Brave New World, Ant-Man and the Wasp) to Paris where he plans to propose. But as their train nears the middle of the Channel Tunnel, The Black Swans take it and all the passengers hostage.

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SAS: Red Notice is based on a novel by Andy McNab But you might recall when this was called Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. Or The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3. Or even Avalanche Express. It’s familiar material but writer Laurence Malkin (Soul Assassin) and director Magnus Martens (There’s Something in the Barn, The Walking Dead: World Beyond) try their best to put a fresh spin on it. They certainly can’t be faulted for not delivering plenty of action. We get not one but two raging firefights before we get to the train. And there’s plenty after it as well as Tom becomes a one-man army, with more enemies than he thinks.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of material that’s perfect for ninety minutes of fast action. SAS: Red Notice clocks in at one hundred and eighteen minutes. And at that length, it gets old and starts dragging. Actually, it starts getting repetitive about seventy-five minutes in and starts dragging soon after. There are only so many times Tom can kill someone without the supposedly highly skilled mercenary a few feet away noticing.

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The film’s other problem is there really isn’t anyone to root for here. The Black Swans are obviously evil. But they were double-crossed and have proof that the British government hired them to commit atrocities. They have a right to be pissed off. Of course, this also makes the British government a bunch of scumbags.

At least some of the SAS leadership is mixed up in plotting as well. And Tom? When the film spends much of its time trying to compare the hero’s and villain’s level of psychopathy that’s not a good sign. Nor is having him say, early in the film, that he’d have no problem killing an unarmed woman if ordered to do so. I don’t expect a film like this to have a squeaky clean protagonist. But I do expect them to be a bit better than the antagonist.

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If you don’t really care about the plot, then SAS: Red Notice should keep you happy for a couple of hours. There are plenty of well executed action set pieces. And the final fight between the film’s two leads is well choreographed. But two hours of assorted assholes backstabbing each other, at times literally, just didn’t work for me. Pulling that off would have taken a much more experienced writer and a director used to this kind of feature length material, not TV shows.

Sky has already released SAS: Red Notice in the UK. It opens on March 16th in the US and Canada via Vertical Entertainment. You can check their Facebook page for details.

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