‘SAS: Red Notice’ review: inept action thriller plays like ‘Call Of Duty: The Movie’

Army clichés riddle this would-be blockbuster like bullet holes in the side of a battered tank

Andy McNab’s Channel Tunnel thriller gets the TV-movie treatment and comes off like a bargain bin version of Die Hard, Mission: Impossible and James Bond all rolled into one. Attracting some decent acting talent and featuring a great idea for a claustrophobic action set-piece, SAS: Red Notice is so close to being fun that it’s a real shame to see it let down by a lousy script, lazy directing and enough army cliches to fill a dozen Call Of Duty cutscenes.

“Those are primroses, not pansies!” quips SAS super soldier Tom Buckingham (Sam Heughan, best known for Outlander) as he snaps the neck of a security guard who was stupidly trying to get away with posing as a gardener. He’s taking out gardeners/goons in Hampstead Heath because his squad has zeroed in on a terrorist cell known as The Black Swan – headed by Tom Wilkinson’s (Batman Begins, The Lone Ranger) crazy millionaire and his psycho daughter, Grace (Ruby Rose). Andy Serkis is somewhere in the background too – chewing as much scenery as possible as an aggressively cockney commander who may or may not be a secret bad guy. In fact, almost everyone in SAS: Red Notice is a potential double agent, and it falls to Buckingham to save the day single-handed when The Black Swan escape, hijack a Eurostar and threaten to blow a hole in the middle of the Channel.

Ruby Rose
During a fight scene in new action thriller ‘SAS: Red Notice’. CREDIT: Sky

To make things worse, Buckingham’s girlfriend (Hannah John-Kamen) is on board the train, and the bomb threat interrupts their plans for a nice weekend in Paris. Time for Buckingham’s one-man-army to go all John McClane and sneak around the top of train carriages, save all the hostages, and beat up a load of giant henchman with nothing but his wits and his fists.

Buckingham is the kind of guy with two expressions – either smirking as he shoots people, or pulling Joey’s “smell the fart” face as he considers his next move – written as a comically unemotional hero for an audience who presumably miss the old Bond movies before Daniel Craig made him cry in the shower. A lot of credit has to go to Heughan (whose name is often in the mix for the next 007) for wringing as much charm out of the script as possible, and for making Buckingham seem sort of fun, even if he isn’t remotely interesting.

Ruby Rose gets a decent audition for a better film here too, channelling Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to give her generic gun-nut baddie a punk edge that just about makes up for all the slow-motion squinting. Elsewhere, Serkis reliably steals every scene with his barking army sergeant schtick that seems weirdly borrowed from that character in King Kong.

SAS Red Notice
Sam Heughan plays a no-nonsense super soldier in ‘SAS: Red Notice’. CREDIT: Sky

In fact, it seems like everyone is trying their best here apart from director Magnus Martens – saddled with a corny script but still completely unable to add any sense of authenticity, humour, excitement or drama to an action film that actually has a decent setup. Less of a film than a TV special, SAS: Red Notice feels wholly un-cinematic at every turn – too clean, too dull and too cheap to ever match the boyish bravado of the book.

Eventually, a big showcase set-piece in the final act explains where all the money went (if not on Andy Serkis’ salary), but it might have been better used to refine the small details, rework the script, and find a better use for all the actors who deserve something much finer on their CV.


  • Director: Magnus Martens
  • Starring: Sam Heughan, Ruby Rose, Andy Serkis
  • Release date: March 12 (Sky Cinema)

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