“I hear you kill more people than Quentin Tarantino,” observes one of the many dispensable villains in the new action-thriller directed and co-written by George Gallo. It’s an unfortunate line. Not simply because it isn’t very funny, but also because it reminds viewers of so many earlier, far better examples of the overworked genre.
Vanquish stars Morgan Freeman — who’s apparently reached the “show up for the paycheck” stage of his career, already firmly occupied by the likes of Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis and John Travolta — and Ruby Rose, fresh off her single-season stint as the title character in The CW’s Batwoman. The former plays Damon, a wheelchair-bound retired cop whose past career is illustrated via a montage of laudatory newspaper articles shown during the end credits. Damon is now living in a lavishly modernistic oceanside mansion (illuminated to resemble an upscale mausoleum), indicating that he must have either received a very generous disability pension or was not quite the upstanding law enforcement officer he’s made out to be.
The film doesn’t waste any time on exposition or character development, instead launching almost immediately into its dubious premise. Damon blackmails his caretaker, Victoria (Rose), a former Russian drug courier whom he’s sponsored during her parole, into going on an evening-long mission to raid a series of drug-trafficking sites to retrieve his illicit gains by any means necessary. To ensure Victoria’s cooperation, he kidnaps her adorable young daughter (Juju Journey Brener), who also happens to be suffering from a life-threatening disease. As children in these sorts of films tend to do.
“It would involve using some of your old skills,” Damon tells Victoria about her mission. Victoria promptly dons her suit, gets on her motorcycle and, equipped with an audio hook-up enabling two-way communication between her and Damon and a body camera that allows him to see everything she’s doing, proceeds to engage in formulaic ultra-violent encounters with a procession of bad guys mainly distinguished by their inability to dodge bullets. The body count does indeed reach Tarantino-like proportions, minus the visual flair and dark wit.
Not that there isn’t plenty of humor in the film, albeit strictly of the unintentional kind. Damon keeps verbally guiding Victoria through a seemingly endless series of high-speed chases around the city, like a human Waze (it’s hard to tell where the story takes place, but it obviously has great Wi-Fi). When Victoria gets unwittingly drugged at one point, Damon tries to keep her awake by shouting into her earpiece. “Don’t pass out! Stay awake!” he instructs her, although he might just as well be talking to the audience. And many of the villains, seeking to communicate with Damon, manically speak directly to Victoria’s body camera as if they’ve made one too many Zoom calls.
Gallo displays none of the screenwriting elan he’s exhibited in such previous efforts as Midnight Run and the Bad Boys films, although here it’s hard to separate the ponderous dialogue from the way it’s delivered. The normally reliable Freeman speaks all his lines like he’s been sedated, while Rose, an undeniably forceful screen presence, here makes being completely expressionless an acting choice. Gallo proves no more effective as a director, staging the action sequences in the sort of uninvolving, overly frenetic fashion that seems all the more glaring after the masterful examples recently seen in Nobody and the John Wick films. More egregiously, the relatively short film has been padded out with a series of flashback sequences of scenes we’ve just seen, which only serves to give viewers the feeling of incipient dementia.
Instantly forgettable even by undemanding modern-day VOD standards, Vanquish proves likely to quickly live up to its title.
Production companies: Grindstone Entertainment Group, Capstone Pictures, Southland Equities LLC, March On
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose, Patrick Muldoon, Nick Vallelonga, Chris Mullinax, Dylan Flashner, Paul Sampson, Julie Lott, Bill Luckett
Director: George Gallo
Screenwriters: George Gallo, Sam Bartlett
Producers: David E. Ornston, Nate Adams, Richard Salvatore
Executive producers: Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, George Gallo, Julie Lott-Gallo, Gary Leff, Christian Mercuri, Roman Viaris
Director of photography: Anastas Michos
Production designer: Joe Lemmon
Editor: Yvan Gauthier
Composer: Aldo Shllaku
Costume designer: Melissa Vargas
Casting: Donald Paul Pemrick, Dean Fronk
Rated R, 96 minutes