A team of mercenaries-cum-terrorists hijacks a train in the middle of the Channel Tunnel between England and France in SAS: Red Notice, a new action-packed thriller from the Andy McNab novel now streaming on Sky in the UK.
Only problem for the terrorists: they didn’t count on ace SAS counter-terrorism officer Tom Buckingham (Outlander’s Sam Heughan) being aboard the train, coincidentally on his way to Paris with girlfriend Sophie (Ant Man and the Wasp’s Hannah John-Kamen) to pop the question.
Only problem for us: it takes SAS: Red Notice an entire first act full of backstory, intrigue, and UK politics to get to the action.
The terrorists are led by American Grace Lewis (Ruby Rose), part of a good ol’ family merc group known as the Black Swans with dad William (Tom Wilkinson) and bro Olly (Owain Yeoman). The Swans were hired by British gas company Britgaz (not to be confused with real-life company British Gas), and by extension the UK Prime Minister, to incinerate a Georgian village and ensure the installation of their new gas pipeline goes smoothly.
But when cell phone video of the mercenary rampage goes viral, the Black Swans are branded terrorists and the titular Red Notice is issued, leading to a nationwide manhunt when Grace and company escape the clutches of SAS authorities.
There’s about four levels of political intrigue going on behind the scenes, from the Prime Minister (Ray Panthaki) to Britgaz rep and mercenary go-between George Clements (Andy Serkis), through SAS Major Bisset (Noel Clarke), and down to SAS officers Declan Smith (Tom Hopper, Dickon Tarly on Game of Thrones) and his buddy Tom.
But when all the pieces are finally put into place, SAS: Red Notice delivers the goods as Tom is taking out terrorists and rescuing hostages deep in the Channel Tunnel, coordinating with his colleagues on the other end as they negotiate with Rose’s vicious baddie. For about an hour in the midsection, SAS: Red Notice hits all the right notes.
For much of the runtime, SAS: Red Notice comes across as an authentic actioner. Former soldier and self-described psychopath McNab is something like the UK’s Tom Clancy, and his story, adapted by Laurence Malkin, feels more credible than most films in the genre.
Heughan is more than effective in the John McClane role, which SAS: Red Notice is careful to paint not as an everyman but a soldier warped by violence and not a world apart from Rose’s psychopath. Climactic scenes between the two almost reach a profound little moment, but ultimately leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Climactic scenes between Heughan and John-Kamen are a total maudlin bust, and even some great drone footage of Paris and Mallorca can’t save them. Following the downer of a climax between the hero and villain, they’re enough to really sour what was previously a taut and exciting action movie and tip the scales for SAS: Red Notice into the negative.