Before he became the hunky heart throb to millions of women (which includes my sister) as Jamie Fraser in the Starz historical drama series “Outlander”. Scottish actor Sam Heughan had auditioned for the role of James Bond during the casting call for “Casino Royale”, before Daniel “No Expression” Craig was cast as 007. Heughan may not have won the coveted role of super agent James Bond, but he may have found his calling starring in the new generically titled action thriller adapted from ex-soldier Andy McNab’s novel “SAS: Red Notice”.
It’s a role Heughan effectively plays the part to in hoping this will be his jumping off point for a franchise of his own. He may not be playing a suave James Bond type, but Heughan is playing something similar to Bruce Willis’ iconic character John McClane. “SAS: Red Notice” is a mix of a straight to video production that falls in line with those 90’s action films that are described as “Die Hard” on a…ship (“Under Siege”), bus (“Speed”) or plane (“Passenger 57”). In this case “SAS: Red Notice” can best be summed up as “Die Hard” in a train tunnel.
As the movie opens, we’re led to believe that our narrative will be following Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose “John Wick 2”) and her family, known as The Black Swans. Giving no spoilers away, some actions about ten minutes in make it perfectly clear that the Lewis family aren’t the heroes of the story. Once we’re done witnessing some deplorable acts taking place by the hand of the Swans, we meet Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan). He’s got all the makings of the stereotypical spy protagonist, right down to that devilish charm. He’s going to propose to his lady love, Dr. Sophie Hart (Hannah John-Kamen), despite the ocean of differences between them.
But first, he’s got to take down those pesky swans. It’s a quick in and out job, despite the profile of those they’re meant to apprehend. Sans a few casualties, things go off without a hitch and our unwitting hero heads back to Sophie’s hospital. It’s apparent that he truly loves her, but she struggles with the fact that he can’t seem to find a human reaction to anything in the world but her.
Tom is blind to her concern and confident in his swagger, Tom whisks Sophie away to France by train that goes under the English Channel. Of course, their train just so happens to be the same one that Grace and the remainder of the Swans intend to hijack. Like John McClane, Tom finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as he springs into action to save Sophie and the passengers.
Sam Heughan is a charismatic action hero and is committed to the action sequences, carrying scenes of suave bravado, bruising fights and gunplay that suggests he would make a terrific 007. Heughan makes a posh boy likeable and pulls it off in his scenes with Hannah John-Kamen and in a brief bond he shares with a young passenger on the train. I really wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes our next leading man action star. Ruby Rose is a perfect sparring partner for Heughan, both physically and verbally. A third-act fight sequence between the two is choreographed with perfection and embraces the realism of face clawing, hard kicks and punches.
When it moves its focus away from Heughan and Rose, the movie gets bogged down in trying to be character driven within its narrative. But also giving us an over-arching political plot, involving the British prime minister and motion capture king Andy Serkis (“Rise Of Planet Of The Apes”) as a corrupt military type, which leads to a subplot that tries to be too complex for its own good. These extended political sequences are much less exciting than the action on the train, but is there to give the film some kind of story to help fill out it’s rather surprising two hour run time. Although it never takes long before the film is back with Heughan, Rose and the hard-hitting action in the tunnel.
Director Magnus Martens (TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) ultimately settles on an action mentality to keep the film moving quickly. It’s a pretty standard action setup, but Martens makes the most of it by stringing together thrilling set pieces and crunching action with some emotional beats. “SAS: Red Notice” is the sort of movie that Hollywood has no problem churning out. Martens film is an entertaining actioner that succeeds as just that…a violent actioner and earns points for attempting to be more than just a potential franchise starter it clearly wants to be. It’s about 10 minutes too long, but aesthetically it’s pleasurable and far better than it has any right to be.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)