Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Vanquish Review: Defeated By Action Thriller Cliches

There is one groundbreaking element in Vanquish, something I've never before seen in a career of watching motion pictures. It comes in the end credits, where we see the words: "Set Disinfectant Services provided by Bay Pest Control."

Now, I don't know what was going on around the set of this Ruby Rose/Morgan Freeman thriller. I don't know what sort of creepy critters required the production crew to call in disinfectant services. But while Bay Pest Control was there, perhaps they should have also sprayed for tired cliches, heavy-handed directing and wooden dialogue — because Vanquish is rife with them.

The movie's very minimal plot gives us Victoria (Rose), a mother trying to put her past as a Russian drug courier in the rearview mirror of her (very impractical for a mom) motorcycle. She lives with Damon (Freeman), a retired policeman confined to a wheelchair and a lavish waterfront mansion that seems like the worst attempt to hide ill-gotten gains since Johnny Dio bought his wife a pink Cadillac coupe after the Lufthansa Heist. Following a period of genial father/daughter-like caretaking, Damon reverses course on Victoria, kidnapping little Lily (Juju Journey Brener) and demanding her mother come out of retirement to spend an evening picking up five duffel bags of cash.

In no time, Victoria is reluctantly back on her bike, driving around town and cracking skulls. After each mission, she returns to the mansion to throw a bag full of money down in front of Damon and grumble sentences with no ending like "If I find out you've hurt one hair on her head..." followed by a disinterested Damon telling her where to head next. As the audience learns early on, most of these missions involve dispatching people who've done her wrong in the past (some involved with the murder of her brother), and since we're looking at beloved actor Morgan Freeman — and his "kidnapping" methods seem to consist of putting Lily in the other room and lovingly checking in on her — Damon may have an ulterior motive.

For the last time, all you Smurfs get outta here!

This is the sort of film whose every decision seems to have been made with a desire to maximize its sleepy, straight-to-VOD vibe. Nearly every edit is a cross-fade; entire scenes risk drowning beneath a thick layer of haze; ominous thunder is omnipresent; and every line reading has the actors reciting dialogue as if they've previously said it in a dozen other takes.

The film's shots are bathed in so many primary colors that you'd think Crayola had paid for product placement: reds, greens, blues, often cutting back and forth. To further nullify any sense of impact, the "villains" are largely interchangeable — chubby, white, gruff guys with beards or goatees — and crooked-cop cliches are leaned on to convey more information about these characters than anything they say or do.

For the entirety of the movie, Ruby Rose wears a transmitter in her ear and a boxy bodycam affixed to her chest. This allows Morgan Freeman to shoot fewer days... er, watch the action on TV and talk to her from his character's home.

The logic surrounding this bodycam is shakier than Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. Victoria's constantly-drawn weapons and positioning behind people she's taken hostage only block Damon's view when the plot requires it. At one point, the ex-cop helps her out by saying "he's got a gun!" when it's incredibly unlikely he'd be able to see that, and no bad guys question the presence of the conspicuous camera as she strolls through rooms where almost every crime imaginable is being performed. We're told there's another camera in her helmet, but at some point Damon is suddenly viewing through an unexplained third camera that seems to be propped up behind her speeding motorcycle — all piped to him via a feed that unfailingly provides the optimum angle for his viewing convenience.

The meat of the movie plays itself out with the same laziness — repeating a blueprint no less than five times, with minimal variation. Ruby Rose walks into a room filled with thumping music, bored-looking henchmen, and villains with increasingly preposterous hair/facial hair combinations. She stands silently as they gather the money in a duffel bag, everyone squints at each other suspiciously, and then she inevitably whips out the conspicuous guns adorning her backside and shoots everyone.

Even her weaponry is a head-scratcher. One scene has Victoria pulling up to a nightclub where it's completely empty outside. Two burly security guards stand mere feet away, watching as she parks her motorcycle, talks to Damon on her bodycam, and repositions the camera on her helmet. As she approaches them, the two enormous guns strapped to her lower back could not be any more blatantly obvious. Although they never search her (it can be assumed they think she's on their side), security would undoubtedly see the guns (one is walking behind her), but they never do anything to stop her, or even warn their boss that she's packing a pair of hand cannons — until it's too late.

To paraphrase that old commercial tagline: A good actor is a terrible thing to waste. Which makes Vanquish a real shame, because Ruby Rose is a bona fide talent who possesses an undeniable magnetism. In barely more than a half-decade, the Australia-born actor has blazed a unique career path, stealing scenes in films like John Wick: Chapter 2 and bringing atypical shading to something like the Batwoman TV series. Although she may rely on a bit too many action movies/superhero projects to wield them, Rose has an impressive array of weapons that can utilize gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and the best sneer this side of Billy Idol to manipulate audience expectations.

In regards to Morgan Freeman, the lack of a challenge feels less like a crime and more along the lines of a well-deserved vacation. The man's career has yielded somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen beloved films, so as strange as it is to watch him in one that will likely be forgotten before the end of the month, it's bound to happen every now and then. And at age 83, unless you get to it before Anthony Hopkins, it must be hard to find a decent role.

Lately, I've been feeling kinda blue

Where the film is lacking, director George Gallo (who had a hand in the Bad Boys franchise and wrote one of the best action films of all time, Midnight Run) tries to distract the audience with technique. But since the film is pretty much always falling short, you're never afforded the opportunity to forget you're watching a movie.

During "fast-paced" scenes, the aforementioned gratuitous cross-fades give way to fast-moving wipes, accompanied by a whooshing sound effect (!). One preposterous-looking villain seems like he was designed to be a combination of the Vega Brothers (he's dressed to resemble John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, but talks like Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs), and a scene where Victoria is drugged results in all sorts of trickery (blurred shots, trippy slo-mo) to clue us in. Of course, Damon reacts immediately, without the aid of these visual clues, while Victoria is still upright and no one in the room would know anything's wrong with her.

These are not the actions of a film confident in its script (which Gallo wrote with Samuel Bartlett). These are not what you typically see in a film that feels its audience is smart enough to keep up with what's going on. These are the desperate acts of a movie attempting to pull some sleight of hand — unaware that we can all see the marked cards, plain as day.

Which leads to one final point that has become particularly irritating in modern movies: over-reliance on CG chicanery. Once upon a time, if you needed to have a character slam their motorcycle into a car, you'd hire a stunt crew; in Vanquish, we get some lame visual of Victoria's bodycam going to static. Back in the day, if a house was going to explode, even if the movie was lame, the audience at least got to watch a house explode. In Vanquish, digital "fire" and "explosion" graphics are crudely sprinkled over a shaky shot of said house. Both moves likely saved the production a few bucks; both moves also distract so much from their moments that they are robbed of any impact.

Thankfully, movie theaters are beginning to open once again, and perhaps Vanquish will be playing at one near you. If you do manage to see the film, please be sure to have Bay Pest Control on speed dial — because the resulting stench is likely to make you think something died in that theater, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong.