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.

Review: ‘The Doorman’ (2020), starring Ruby Rose and Jean Reno

October 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ruby Rose in “The Doorman” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Doorman” (2020)

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the action flick “The Doorman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A former Marine takes a job as a doorman at an upscale apartment building and finds herself battling with art thieves who take her and some of her family members hostage.

Culture Audience: “The Doorman” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic and forgettable action movies.

Jean Reno in “The Doorman” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Doorman” is one of those “taken hostage and trapped in a building” movies that’s nothing more than a predictable and uncreative variation of the classic 1988 Bruce Willis film “Die Hard.” Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, “The Doorman” makes almost no attempt to do anything new with the formula that’s been endlessly copied since “Die Hard” became an influential blockbuster. The only fairly unusual aspect of the film is that the action hero in this movie is a woman. And the movie is a reminder that being a front-lobby attendant is such a male-dominated job that it’s still referred to as being a doorman.

Three people are credited with writing “The Doorman” screenplay: Lior Chefetz, Joe Swanson and Devon Rose. And apparently none of them could think of a plausible reason for why a cell phone couldn’t be used to get help in this emergency situation when the hero of the story temporarily breaks free from the hostages but is still in the apartment building where the home invasion takes place. Viewers are expected to accept the flimsy explanation that cell-phone service isn’t working in that particular building because the building is undergoing renovations.

Before the hostage situation happens, the movie gives a brief introduction to the protagonist of “The Doorman” and the life she had before she began working in the upscale New York City apartment building that’s taken hostage. Her name is Ali Gorsky (played by Ruby Rose), a serious-minded and stoic type who was a sergeant in the Marines. She was part of an elite U.S. military team stationed in an unnamed country. One of her duties was being a bodyguard for an unnamed female U.S. ambassador (played by Andreea Vasile) and the ambassador’s daughter Nira (played by Andreea Androne), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

While traveling to a speaking engagement, the ambassador is in a convoy of cars in front of and behind her car as protection as they drive through a secluded wooded area. Ali and Nira are along for the ride too. Suddenly, numerous gunmen emerge from the woods and ambush the fleet of cars. The assassins have war weapons, including a rocket launcher, while the military defenders, who just have regular guns, are quickly killed off, one by one.

All of the assassins’ victims die except for Ali, who tries in vain to save the ambassador and her daughter, who become easy targets in the back seat of a car when a rocket launcher is aimed right at them. The explosion propels Ali into the woods in some very cheesy and not-very-believable visual effects, which morph into Ali in New York City waking up from a nightmare where she remembered what happened on that terrible day.

Needless to say, by the time Ali is seen in New York City, she has already left the military in disgrace and she needs another job. She meets with her uncle Pat (played by Philip Whitchurch) at a local bar, where she’s reluctant to talk about her traumatic experience. Pat works as a contractor for building repairs and renovations, and he tells Ali about a job opening for a doorman in the high-rise apartment building where he’s doing renovations. She reluctantly agrees to interview for the job.

The building is called The Carrington, and it’s in an upscale area on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s the type of building that was built before World War II and used to be a hotel. Most of the residents have temporarily moved out because of the renovations. However, some of the residents who are still living there have reasons for why they’ve been allowed to stay in the building.

This poorly written movie doesn’t really show Ali interviewing for the job, which she gets shortly before Easter. She just shows up and meets someone named Borz Blasevic (played by Aksel Hennie), who presents himself as the chief doorman/superintendent, and he immediately tells her to get dressed in the work uniform in the unisex locker room. Borz knows that Ali was referred to by Pat, but Pat tells Ali that he doesn’t want Borz to know that Ali is related to Pat.

And it just so happens that Ali has other relatives in the building, and they are among the few residents who are still living there during the renovations: Her brother-in-law Jon Stanton (played by Rupert Evans), a professor who’s originally from England; Jon’s son Max (played by Julian Feder), who’s about 15 or 16 years old; and Jon’s daughter Lily (played by Kila Lord Cassidy), who’s about 11 or 12 years old.

Jon is a widower who used to be married to Ali’s late sister, whose cause of death is not mentioned in the movie. It’s also not mentioned how long Ali’s sister has been dead, but it’s implied that it’s been less than two years. Jon is a written as a generic father with not much of a personality. Max, who is often sullen, has antisocial tendencies because he apparently spends a lot of time alone smoking marijuana and playing video games. Lily is a typical “adorable and precocious” kid that movies like this tend to have whenever children are taken hostage.

Jon and his children have been allowed to remain in the building because they aren’t going to stay for much longer: After Easter vacation, they plan to move back to England, where Jon works. After her sister’s death, Ali has been avoiding being around Jon and the kids because of a secret that is very easy to predict from the moment that Jon and Ali first see each other when he finds out that she’s now working in the building.

On her first day on the job, Ali meets two of the other remaining residents in the building: an elderly couple named Bernard Hersh (played by Petre Moraru) and his wife (played by (Delianne Forget), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Bernard had a stroke seven years before, he almost never talks, and he’s wheelchair-bound. His wife, who is his caretaker, explains to Ali that building management allowed them to continue living at The Carrington during renovations because moving to another building would upset Bernard too much.

It isn’t long before danger comes to The Carrington, when a French thief named Victor Dubois (played by Jean Reno) and his small gang of henchmen arrive for a home invasion in the Hershes’ apartment. Of course, these thugs had some help from a building insider, and it’s very easy to figure out who that person is in this relatively small cast of characters. This “inside job” criminal barricades the front door from the inside with chains and a padlock, so the hostages can’t escape. (The movie never shows if any back doors or side doors are also barricaded.)

Victor is there to steal some valuable art paintings that are in the building, and Bernard knows where they are. But things go awry because Victor doesn’t know until he gets there that Bernard is nearly mute and can’t really tell the information that Victor wants. This leads to a torture scene and Victor finding out that the Hershes used to live in the apartment where the Stantons currently live.

And guess who’s taken hostage next while they’re having Easter dinner? Ali is off-duty at the Stantons’ apartment, having what she thought would be just an awkward family reunion dinner at Easter. And because she’s off-duty, she happens to be wearing high heels, which are supposed to make her look like a “feminine badass” when she has the inevitable fights with the home invaders.

The rest of “The Doorman” is about Ali trying to save her relatives through a series of often-preposterous scenarios. The Carrington happens to be a building with hidden rooms and hidden dumbwaiter shafts. And there’s an underground tunnel that was supposed to be a subway tunnel but construction on the tunnel was halted decades ago, and the tunnel was sealed up behind a wall.

As the main character in this stereotypical action flick, Rose doesn’t have much to do except act tough and go through the choreographed motions for the fight sequences. Ali shows some glimmers of being humanly vulnerable in moments with Jon and the children. But for the most part, Ali has a very wooden personality, and Rose doesn’t have much acting range to bring more charisma to this formulaic character.

French actor Reno has been playing villains in B-movies for quite some time, so there’s nothing new or exciting that he does in “The Doorman.” He usually portrays the “brains” of a criminal operation who gets other people to do most of the dirty work. In “The Doorman,” the Victor character is no different, except this mastermind criminal makes a lot of stupid and arrogant decisions that just drag the movie out longer, in order to create a false sense of suspense.

“The Doorman” is the type of bad movie that isn’t so bad that it’s laughable. It’s the type of bad movie that will induce boredom because it’s so tiresome in how unimaginative it is. The fight scenes are unremarkable, and the acting is mediocre at best. The characters you expect to get killed are the ones who get killed. The characters you expect to survive are the ones who survive. There are video games that are better than this cliché-ridden, soulless movie.

Lionsgate released “The Doorman” on digital and VOD on October 9, 2020, and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 13, 2020.

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