Review: Vanquish — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose star in this oddly constructed, fussily filmed thriller from co-writer/director George Gallo.

Morgan Freeman in the film "Vanquish"
(Lionsgate Entertainment)

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⭐ ⭐

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

Stars: Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose

Writers: George Gallo, Samuel Bartlett

Director: George Gallo

In theaters April 16; streaming April 20


So, you’re Morgan Freeman, sitting around your house in Mississippi, and the phone rings and some guy says, “Hey, we’re making an action movie just down the road from your place and we’re wondering if you’d be willing to come on over and film a few scenes with us.”

“Well, I don’t know,” you rumble in that incredible voice of yours, “I’ve been kind of busy; I really just feel like kicking back.”

“Look,” the guy persists, “all you have to do is sit in a wheelchair and talk on the phone. You never even have to see the other actors.”

“Really?” you say, raising those expressive eyebrows of yours. “Nobody?”

“Well, you’ll have a couple of scenes with the actress who played Batwoman on the CW. And if you don’t mind, we’d like you to kill some people.”

“Okay,” you sigh. “But you have to let me kill them by remote control.”

That is, of course, an entirely fictional exchange, but I can’t help but feel it’s pretty darned close to the back-and-forth that led the great Freeman to contribute what amounts to an extended walk-on in this oddly constructed, fussily filmed thriller from co-writer/director George Gallo, whose long history of slam-bang Hollywood scripts includes vastly superior films like Midnight Run and Bad Boys.

Here Freeman’s a guy named Damon, a former hero cop and big city police commissioner who has retired to a sprawling home that’s a cross between Xanadu and a 1960s airport terminal. No one seems to question how an ex-policeman can afford the lifestyle of a rap star; if they did, they’d soon discover that he was the dirtiest of cops, reaping millions from seamy underworld associates scattered all over town.

Damon is fond of his housekeeper Victoria, a lithe, head-shaven Australian woman (which perfectly describes Ruby Rose, who plays her). Not only does Victoria have a mysterious past, she also has an adorable daughter Lily (Juju Journey Brener) with an undetectable, yet surely fatal, disease.

One night, as Victoria is preparing dinner in the kitchen — about 1,000 yards from the living room — Damon summons her with an offer she cannot refuse. Before dawn, she must ride a super-slick motorcycle to five widely separated locales and fetch satchels stuffed with dirty money. In return, he says, he will provide lifetime support for her and spare no expense in finding the world’s best doctors to cure Lily of what ails her.

Victoria, it turns out, is a lot more than a single mom who earns her living riding a Zamboni around the marble floors of a glass-walled mausoleum. She is a former something-or-other who used to work for undefined bad guys trafficking in some illegal stuff and, in the process, developed skills in the fatal arts that would make James Bond blush. Don’t fret the details, gentle viewer: Suffice to say Victoria’s a rad, bad, killing machine with a soft spot for her daughter.

And so, off she rides into the night, staying in constant touch with Damon via bodycam, helmet cam, and cell phone. Each of Victoria’s five stops plops her into mortal peril as, for reasons known only to Damon, each one brings her face-to-face with evil men from her past who want to kill her. Between each bloody encounter, as Victoria speeds through the darkness, director Gallo focuses the camera’s gaze on her helmeted face, superimposing random moments from the immediately previous scene, as if we’re in danger of forgetting what happened 45 seconds earlier. Also, Victoria has repeated visions of adorable little Lily screaming “Mommy! Help me!”

Gallo is not a particularly gifted filmmaker, but he is remarkably prolific, with a knack for getting big names to waltz across the screen of his low-budget fiascos. The Rotten Tomato rankings of his output for the last 25 years may range from zero to 50 percent, but that hasn’t kept the likes of Freeman, Robert De Niro, Beau Bridges, James Caan, Bruce Willis, Meg Ryan, and Antonio Banderas from slumming on his sets. It’s not like Gallo doesn’t try; he just makes choices that are, shall we say, wacky. Vanquish, for instance, features an early, utterly unnecessary scene in which an honest cop is being beaten to death by a posse of bad ones — the whole episode seemingly viewed through the eyes of a rat that’s skittering in the rafters above them. Just what is Gallo saying here? Is the audience the rat? Are we somehow complicit in the crimes being committed below? Or, more likely, did Gallo just wake up one night and say to himself, “You know, it might be cool to film a rat’s-eye view of a murder! I must call Morgan Freeman!”

It does appear that everyone in Vanquish is having a good time. Rose manages to shift from dead-eyed killer to compassionate mom without causing audience whiplash, and Freeman, always a minimalist anyway, lets Damon remain charmingly inscrutable. (One can imagine Gallo training his camera on Freeman’s face and saying, “Okay, now, look worried. Now look surprised. Now chuckle,” and later splicing the clips in wherever they worked best.)

Vanquish is making a brief appearance in cinemas before going to streaming platforms in a week or so. Although I’m really rooting for everyone to get back to the theaters as soon as possible, even diehard Morgan Freeman fans should probably wait to see this one at home. With a good stiff drink.

Featured image: Lionsgate Entertainment

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