Review: ‘9 Bullets,’ starring Lena Headey and Sam Worthington

May 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dean Scott Vazquez and Lena Headey in “9 Bullets” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“9 Bullets”

Directed by Gigi Gaston 

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the West Coast and Midwest of the United States, the dramatic film “9 Bullets” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos, Asians and multiracial people) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A former burlesque dancer goes on the run with an orphaned 11-year-old boy, whose family was killed by gangsters.

Culture Audience: “9 Bullets” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching poorly made and implausible crime dramas.

Sam Worthington in “9 Bullets” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Fans of the 1980 crime drama “Gloria” (starring Gena Rowlands in the title role) might be repulsed if they have the misfortune of wasting time watching “9 Bullets,” which is a sloppy and pathetic imitation of that classic movie. It’s not an official remake of “Gloria,” but “9 Bullets” copies so many things about “Gloria,” it’s essentially a rehash of the same story, with names and locations changed. It’s truly unfortunate that “9 Bullets” star Lena Headey has gone from the glory of starring in the Emmy-winning “Game of Thrones” series to diminishing her talent by starring in bottom-of-the-barrel trash such as “9 Bullets.”

Written and directed by Gigi Gaston, “9 Bullets” rips off “Gloria” by having this concept: A “tough woman” with a shady past goes on the run with an orphaned boy, whose family was killed by gangsters because his father betrayed the gang. “Gloria” (written and directed by John Cassavetes) takes place on the East Coast of the U.S., mostly in New York City and briefly in Pittsburgh. “9 Bullets” takes place in the Midwest and West Coast regions of the U.S., with a road trip that goes from California to Utah, Montana and North Dakota. The woman on the run in each movie keeps repeating how much she doesn’t like kids, which is supposed to be the irony when she inevitably develops maternal feelings for the boy who unexpectedly ends up in her care.

In “9 Bullets,” Headey portrays a very jaded and abrasive dancer-turned-author named Gypsy (no explanation is given if that’s her real name or an alias), who lives in Santa Clarita, California. She’s a soon-to-be-retired burlesque dancer because she’s gotten a book deal to write her memoir, tentatively titled “Another Dance.” Throughout the movie, while she’s running for her life, Gypsy keeps her laptop computer with her so she can work on her memoir in between dodging bullets.

The movie’s opening scene shows Gypsy on her house’s front porch while she’s reading the book publishing contract that she’s received in the mail. She looks up at the sky and says, “I promise not to fuck it up this time.” It’s at this point in the movie that you know a loved one in Gypsy’s life has passed away, and she feels a lot of guilt when it comes to that person.

Because “9 Bullets” also tries to make Gypsy look sexy, the movie has her doing “one last performance” at the seedy bar where she works. The movie’s depiction of Gypsy’s burlesque dancing is showing some slow-motion shots of a woman’s barely clad rear end (it could have been a body double) and Headey doing some lackluster walking on a stage in a tacky-looking tight-fitting outfit. Gypsy thinks that after this last performance, she’ll be leaving behind her life of working in sleazy bars and dealing with criminal losers, so that she can start a new life as a successful author who goes on vacation cruises. But there would be no “9 Bullets” movie if that happened.

On the night of this last performance, Gypsy gets a call from a friend named Ralph Stein (played by Zachary Mooren), who at the moment is frantically speeding down a street in his car, with his widowed mother (played by Marlene Forte) and young adult daughter Caroline (played by Stephanie Arcila) as passengers. Ralph is terrified because he has stolen money from a vengeful gangster named Jack (played by Sam Worthington), who has sent some of his goons to kill Ralph and Ralph’s family. Someone who’s not in the car is Ralph’s 11-year-old son Sam (played by Dean Scott Vazquez), who minutes earlier, got a call from Ralph to start doing the emergency plan that they talked about, in case they need to run for their lives.

Ralph tells Gypsy over the phone that he “messed up” with Jack, and he begs Gypsy to protect Sam if anything happens to the family. As Ralph and his family race to their house to pick up Sam, who is home alone, the car is stopped on a residential street by Jack’s thugs, who shoot and kill everyone in the car. Sam is hiding outside nearby with the family’s pet dog Moses (a Chihuahua mixed breed), so Sam witnesses his family being murdered.

Jack’s murderous henchman are looking for a computer tablet, but they can only find a laptop in the car, so they steal it before driving away. A terrified and sobbing Sam goes back to his house, where Gypsy finds him. Sam tells her what he saw, and they go on the run, with the dog coming along for the ride. (In “Gloria,” the murdered family had a pet cat, but the orphaned boys in both movies have a physical resemblance with dark, curly hair. In “Gloria,” John Adames played the role of the orphaned boy, who was named Phil.)

At first, Gypsy wants nothing to do with taking care of this kid. Sam has a clergyman uncle in North Dakota named Rabbi Stein (played by John Ales), who is resistant to take custody of Sam, because the rabbi says he’s overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of his own kids. And then there’s the fact that the gang is looking to kill Sam too. Rabbi Stein reluctantly agrees to take custody of Sam, but the rabbi says he needs more time to prepare for Sam’s arrival.

It’s just an excuse for this movie to have a prolonged road trip. Gypsy lies to Sam and says that his uncle wants Sam to live with him, but Sam senses that she’s been dishonest. Sam then proceeds to cry, whine and pout for much of the road trip. Gypsy does hardly anything to comfort him because, as she tells Sam repeatedly, she’s not good with kids. But when Sam mentions that he’s a cryptocurrency whiz, suddenly Gypsy finds that this kid can be useful.

This poorly written movie has an odd detour where Gypsy goes to Jack’s mansion, with the intention of seducing him to back off from killing Sam. Gypsy leaves Sam behind in a motel, but she illogically takes Moses the dog with her on this visit. She wants to convince Jack that she doesn’t know where Sam is. This “seduction” is just a thinly veiled reason for “9 Bullets” to have a not-very-sexy sex scene, where Gypsy has nudity, but Jack doesn’t. Typical sexist double standard in a trashy movie.

Jack and Gypsy were in a relationship years ago, but she dumped him because he constantly cheated on Gypsy and was too possessive of her. Jack now tells her that he wants to get back together with her, but she refuses. It makes absolutely no sense for Gypsy to have the dog with her during this visit. The dog is only there so the movie can have a heinous scene where Jack threatens to steal the dog and kill it after Gypsy rejects him.

Jack is a stereotypical American gang boss in a movie, but Worthington (who’s Australian in real life) struggles with having a convincing American accent. Jack lounges around his house barks orders at his underlings, and he has at least one female lover who’s willing to do whatever he wants her to do. Her name is Lisa (played by Emma Holzer), who helps take care of Jack’s horses. Later in the story, Lisa has one of the worst-delivered lines in the movie, when she smirks, “Never send a man to do a woman’s job,” after she commits a violent act.

Jack has three main goons doing the dirty work for this assassination. Mike (played by Chris Mullinax), the bossiest one, can be as ruthless as Jack. Tommy (played by Cam Gigandet) is dimwitted and cruel. Eddie (played by Martin Sensmeier) is loyal and has the most compassion out of all the thugs. There’s a scene in the movie where Eddie could’ve easily murdered someone, but he doesn’t. Eventually, Jack goes on the road with his thugs to look for Gypsy and Sam too, because Jack suddenly shows up in a few scenes where he’s with his henchmen in chasing after these two targets.

La La Anthony has an embarrassing and idiotic role in the movie, and her questionable acting skills don’t do much to help. She plays a sassy stripper named Tasmin, who was taking a nap in the back seat of a Porsche SUV when it gets stolen by Gypsy, who foolishly did not see Tasmin when Gypsy stole the car. Tasmin eventually figures out that Gypsy and Sam are in deadly trouble, but Tasmin acts as if it’s just completely normal to tag along with these two strangers who have assassins looking for them.

Barbara Hershey has a thankless role as a former Princeton University professor named Lacey, who offers her Utah home as a place for Gypsy and Sam to temporarily hide. How does Gypsy know Lacey? Years ago, Gypsy was a Princeton student until she dropped out for reasons explained when bitter and emotionally damaged Gypsy ends up telling Sam her sob story.

Of course, in a silly movie like “9 Bullets,” Lacey is not quite the mild-mannered retired professor that she first appears to be. Headey and Hershey are accomplished actresses who deserve much better than this dreck, which is filled with plot holes, nonsensical scenes (including one where Jack and his thugs easily let Gypsy get away), horrendous editing, and acting that ranges from mediocre to truly unwatchable. Headey seems to be doing her best to commit to her role as Gypsy, but it’s a lost cause because of the movie’s low-quality screenplay and direction.

And why is this movie called “9 Bullets?” There’s a scene where Sam lectures Gypsy, by saying: “You better let someone love you before it’s too late.” Gypsy replies, “I’m a cat with nine lives. I’ll be fine.” Sam asks, “What does that mean?” Gypsy replies, “It takes nine bullets to kill me.” At 91 minutes long, it takes “9 Bullets” this amount of time to kill any hope of being entertained by a movie that amounts to nothing more than awful and pointless garbage.

Screen Media Films released “9 Bullets” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 22, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on June 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Vanquish’ (2021), starring Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose

May 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ruby Rose in “Vanquish” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Vanquish” (2021)

Directed by George Gallo

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Vanquish” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the criminal underground and law enforcement.

Culture Clash: A corrupt and retired police officer forces a former colleague to do some of his dirty work, in exchange for setting her kidnapped underage daughter free from captivity.

Culture Audience: “Vanquish” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind wasting time watching a dimwitted, poorly made and incoherent film.

Morgan Freeman in “Vanquish” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

At some point while filming the horrific embarrassment that is “Vanquish,” Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman must have asked himself, “How did I end up in this garbage movie?” It might have been an easy paycheck for Freeman, but it came at a cost to some of his dignity to be in this putrid cesspool of terrible filmmaking. Freeman seems to know it too, based on his zoned-out performance, which is barely distinguishable from the rest of the stiff and terrible acting that stinks up this trash pile of an action flick.

Viewers unlucky enough to watch “Vanquish” might think that the movie’s sloppy and amateurish filmmaking might be from a first-time feature-film director. No, “Vanquish” is the 13th feature film directed by George Gallo, who made his feature directorial debut with the 1991 dramedy “29th Street,” starring Anthony LaPaglia, Danny Aiello and Lainie Kazan. Gallo is best-known as the screenwriter for the 1988 crime-caper comedy “Midnight Run” (starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin) and for coming up with the story that would turn into the 1995 action hit movie “Bad Boys,” starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.

Based on his filmography, Gallo has done plenty of movies about mismatched people who are involved in some criminal activities. In other words, this type of subject matter isn’t new to him. And that’s why it’s even more mind-boggling that “Vanquish” (which Gallo wrote with Sam Bartlett) is so badly bungled on every single level of filmmaking. The plot is nonsensical, the aforementioned acting is cringeworthy, and the way that the film was shot and edited makes some no-budget YouTube prank videos look like masterpieces in comparison.

It’s a very bad sign when “Vanquish” has an opening credits sequence that lasts for a bloated six minutes. That’s how long it takes for the movie to repetitively show newspaper clippings and news footage of police officer Damon Hickey (played by Freeman) becoming a decorated hero during the course of his long career. (The movie doesn’t mention where this story takes place, but it’s supposed to be in a U.S. city.)

Damon’s career was cut short when he was gunned down in a shootout that left him with paraplegia. And so, throughout this entire dull and dreary movie, Damon is in a wheelchair while he lives by himself in a sleek-looking mansion worth millions. How could a retired police officer afford such a luxurious home when he doesn’t come from a rich family and there’s no sign that he married into wealth? And how could Damon’s ownership of this mansion, which is beyond his cop salary, not raise suspicions from law enforcement?

This illogical movie never answers the second question, but it answers the first question. Damon has been a corrupt cop involved in skimming money from drug deals and other crimes. And he’s been able to get away with it. For reasons that aren’t made clear except for vague references to revenge, Damon now wants payback from certain people in the criminal underworld. And he plans to steal loads of cash from them.

And that’s where Victoria (played by Rose) comes into the picture. Victoria, who is originally from Australia (as is Rose in real life), is Damon’s caretaker and a single mother to a daughter named Lily (played by Juju Journey Brener), who’s about 8 or 9 years old. Victoria is in for a shock one night when she and Lily are in Damon’s home, and Lily goes missing. Damon calmly informs Victoria (whom he calls Vicky) that Lily is safe but in captivity, and Victoria won’t get Lily back unless Victoria does what Damon says.

Damon wants Victoria to go to five different pre-planned places to pick up cash. But it’s not as simple as that. Damon also wants Victoria to murder anyone who gets in her way. Damon knows exactly where his criminal targets are gathered at these places. And so, even if any of these crooks owed Damon any money, he won’t be satisfied with just the money. He wants them dead.

And why is Victoria so qualified to do these dirty deeds? She used to be a drug courier for the Russian mafia, which explains why she has assassin skills. It doesn’t explain why viewers have to be subjected to the idiocy of scene after scene where she’s able to single-handedly take on several armed opponents at once and never miss a target when she fires a gun.

After Victoria goes to each of the location to murder people and pick up a bag of cash, she gets on her motorcycle and delivers the cash to Damon. Then, Damon and Victoria spew some badly written lines that are supposed to be arguments. And then, Victoria hops on her motorcycle to go to the next destination. Freeman literally does nothing in this movie but sit in a wheelchair and act cranky and self-righteous.

During the course of this movie, viewers find out that Victoria can not only speak Russian but she can also speak German and French. Be prepared to hear Rose mangle words in different languages. With her limited acting range (and that’s putting it nicely), she barely has command of the English language.

Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a muddled storyline about some gangsters who’ve caught a snitch in their group. This snitch’s secret audio surveillance was found on a portable cassette tape recorder that would need a wire for remote recording. What year is this? 1991?

Viewers know that this movie takes place in the era of digital, wireless recorders because Damon keeps track of Victoria through a high-tech digital video surveillance system that he requires her to wear during her robbery/killing spree. And that’s why it’s almost laughable that the snitch was found with a cassette recorder that looks like it was left over from an old episode of “Law & Order.”

The snitch has been killed, and the people he secretly recorded are corrupt cops who used to work with Damon. They include B.J. (played by Paul Sampson), Erik (played by Miles Doleac), Sniper (played by Richard Salvatore) and Max (played by Ele Barda). These goons show up at various points in this messy story, where not even the clergy is immune to the corruption. In a flashback scene, Damon is shown in a confessional with a priest named Father Thomas (played by Bill Luckett), who’s been in cahoots with Damon in their criminal activities.

Are there any good cops in this story? Not really. There are some law enforcement people who turn up at various points in the movie, but they don’t do anything except say moronic lines while they hang out in seedy bars. The cops in the movie certainly don’t seem to be doing any real police work.

These useless characters include Detective Stevens (played by Nick Vallelonga), Detective Kehoe (played by Chris Mullinax) and Agent Monroe (played by Patrick Muldoon). Freeman isn’t the only Oscar winner in the “Vanquish” cast. Vallelonga won two Oscars for being a writer and a producer of the 2018 dramedy “Green Book.” It goes to show that being an Oscar winner doesn’t automatically give someone the good sense to avoid bottom-of-the-barrel projects.

While Victoria speeds around the city in her motorcycle to go from destination to destination, Damon inexplicably acts as if he’s her personal GPS, by giving her directions. Expect to see a lot of footage of Freeman sitting in a wheelchair and barking empty lines such as “Go there!” or “Turn left!” The only direction this movie goes is off the rails.

Victoria is armed with two large guns that she keeps exposed in full view while they’re tucked into the back side of her jeans. And so, there’s scene after scene of her walking into these criminal hangouts, where her guns are exposed and no one stops her or questions her. The bodyguards who are supposed to protect the criminals are completely incompetent (just like this movie’s screenplay is incompetent), because it doesn’t take long for Victoria to open fire and slaughter everyone in sight. Remember, she never misses a target.

During her first stop at a nightclub where her targets are, Victoria shoots and kills some people in a back room without a gun silencer, and the movie wants viewers to believe that no one could hear the gunshots because the door was closed. These lunkheads apparently didn’t think that a known associate of Damon’s who walked into the club with two guns sticking out of her back wasn’t going to use these guns.

After these murders, Victoria manages to rescue a prostitute named Galyna (played by Hannah Stocking), who begs to be set free from these thugs. Victoria decides that she and Galyna should play it cool and walk out of the club as if they’re friends having a laugh. “Can you pretend I’m funny?” Victoria asks Galyna. Galyna replies, “I’m a prostitute!,” as if to say “I already know how to act.” Too bad no one knows how to act in this film.

Another mindless massacre scene is one where Victoria encounters an over-the-top effeminate/flamboyant gangster named Rayo (played by Joel Michaely), who has one of the worst fake Southern accents you’ll ever hear in a movie. Victoria shows up unannounced at Rayo’s home. Rayo offers Victoria some Mint Julep, as if she’s at the Kentucky Derby, not in the lair of a sleazy criminal who has some heavily drugged young men on his living room sofa. (Adults will know exactly what those young men are doing there and why they’ve been drugged.)

And because Victoria is as dimwitted as this movie’s screenplay, she drinks the Mint Julep, even though she sees that there are people on the sofa who are in a drugged stupor. The Mint Julep is laced with a sedative, of course. Damon is watching this fiasco the whole time on his video surveillance camera. As Victoria is about to pass out from the unnamed drug that she ingested in the Mint Julep, Damon sees that there’s a small mound of cocaine on a nearby table. You can easily guess what he tells Victoria to do and what happens next.

And did we mention that Victoria used to have a (now-dead) brother who was her partner in crime? It’s of no consequence to this movie’s plot because it’s just another useless detail that’s thrown in to make it look like Victoria has a backstory. She really doesn’t.

That’s why there’s a ludicrous moment toward the end of the film where viewers find out that Victoria’s mother is the governor of the unnamed state where this movie takes place. Governor Ann Driscoll (played by Julie Lott) had not one but two children caught up in running drugs for the Russian mafia, and somehow this was never exposed by her political opponents. What a way to get elected.

One of the most annoying aspects of “Vanquish” is how it over-saturates the movie with fade-in/fade-out editing, as if to mimic a fever dream. It’s more like a nightmare to sit through this rubbish. The movie’s blaring soundtrack is distracting and often drowns out the dialogue.

And the filmmakers mistakenly thought that “Vanquish” would look artsy by having substandard cinematography that tries to make almost every interior look like a neon aquarium. It doesn’t look artsy. It looks garish and tacky.

In the production notes for “Vanquish,” director/co-writer Gallo makes this statement that reads, in part: “I have always enjoyed the Korean gangster film genre ever since I first became aware of them. These films have a cool, bouncy and deliciously dark vibe and most importantly, a great sense of humor … My attraction to ‘Vanquish’ was that I could make a film that I hadn’t really done before and infuse my love of these genres into my film.”

First of all, please don’t insult Korean cinema by comparing “Vanquish” to Korean gangster films. It’s like comparing toxic trash to works of art. Secondly, there is absolutely no humor in “Vanquish,” unless viewers want to laugh at how horrible everything in this movie is. And lastly, “Vanquish” does the exact opposite of what Victoria does every time she fires her gun: The movie completely misses the mark.

Lionsgate released “Vanquish” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021, on digital and VOD on April 20, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on April 27, 2021.

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