There is usually at least some joy that can be gleaned from a terrible action film. Especially those that completely forget to take themselves seriously, revelling in their own excesses, or those that do take themselves seriously but are undercut by their own hilarious ineptness (Hello, Neil Breen). Unfortunately, George Gallo’s Vanquish offers none of this joy. It’s dreadful for sure, but with enough of a veneer of purloined competence to suck out any vestigial schadenfreude, leaving an empty shell that’s mirrored by the dead-eyed performances of its two leads.
Damon Hickey (Morgan Freeman) is a former police commissioner forced into retirement after being gunned down. As it happens, as well as the most senior cop in the States, he’s also the most corrupt (a high bar indeed!) and continues to control his dodgy empire from his wheelchair in an his massive, angular modernist home. But one of his charges is cooperating with the FBI, putting his operation in jeopardy. His home help Victoria (Ruby Rose) also just happens to have a criminal past as a courier for the Russian mob. She is also the single mother of an adorable little girl with some non-specific, but potentially fatal disease. Damon offers to pay for the treatment, but on the proviso that Vicky dip her toe back into her former life making five dangerous cash pickups throughout one precarious evening. In case any further leverage was required, he has also kidnapped the girl.
The ludicrous setup, with an interminable five-minute credit sequence detailing Hickey’s life and career, is easily the most enjoyable part of this pointless and ugly little film. Once Victoria gets out into the field, grimly going through the motions with the intensity of someone trying to pop a recalcitrant blister, it swiftly devolves into one perfunctory shoot-out after another. Rose walks in and says something cocky. Freeman, via body cam, warns her it’s a trap. The trap springs. Rose kills everyone. Rose legs it on her bike. All that changes is that the next location will be bathed in a different venomous tint of neon to the previous one. Gallo has mistaken his colour scheme for style, and Rose’s stilted brutality for cool taciturnity. It’s clear he’s aiming for the stripped-back atmosphere of Drive. But for all her unconventional appeal as support in other ventures, Rose is no Ryan Gosling. And Gallo sure as hell isn’t Nicolas Winding Refn. If the visuals constantly pulsating like a bad Vegas flashback wasn’t enough, Gallo insists on editing using wipes and dissolves within scenes, presumably as an attempt to add some artistic pretension. The effect makes the proceedings feel sluggish and languorous, exactly the opposite direction you would wish an action film to go.
Watching Morgan Freeman somnambulate through this silliness is like catching Lewis Hamilton pootling around in a Trabant; the incongruousness is faintly amusing, but you know he just shouldn’t be there. He doesn’t so much as phone it in, as Zoom it in, given that 95% of his role is spent purring instructions through a screen. Let’s be honest, it’s not that Freeman hasn’t turned up in any old dreck lately. Among those at the ‘wanking for coins’ stage of their career he’s somewhere between the Tramadol presence of Bruce Willis and the always admirably committed Nick Cage. But Vanquish may be the worst the veteran star has leant that mellifluous voice to yet. We’ll continue to root for a Hopkins-level late period barnstormer soon, but it’s currently not looking hopeful.
If you really need a further indication of just how bad this film is, someone actually says the line, “So, we meet again.” How this vacuous seepage has dribbled from the same pen as 1988’s Midnight Run, one of the very finest buddy comedies from a decade stuffed with them, and Bad Boys, perhaps the ultimate ’90s guilty pleasure, is anyone’s guess. It’s a pernicious snatch at the coattails of the post-John Wick rush of one-man-army bullet fests, and the names above the poster may indeed entice some curious fans. Be warned, this is a deathly dull, visually repulsive, and stylistically bereft stinker that lacks even the good grace to be unintentionally hilarious.
Available On-demand Thu 23 Jul and on DVD Mon 2 Aug 2021