By Alex McPherson
With shallow characterization and underwhelming action sequences, George Gallo’s new film, “Vanquish,” winds up being decidedly average.
This generic thriller stars Ruby Rose as Vicky, a former courier for Russian drug dealers, who’s become a caretaker for Damon (Morgan Freeman), a retired police commissioner in cahoots with crooked cops. When the operation Damon’s team is working on is nearly jeopardized, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Vicky can’t afford to pay medical bills for her young daughter, so Damon offers funds in exchange for her embarking on a dangerous task — completing five money pickups from criminals around town. When Vicky refuses, Damon takes Lily hostage and won’t release her until the job is completed. Vicky must utilize her particular set of skills to survive the night and rescue her child.
With a style reminiscent of the “John Wick” franchise, Gallo’s film neglects to make the most of its lead actors and only provides sporadic moments of enjoyment throughout.
Even with low expectations going in, I hoped “Vanquish” would provide a campy, suspenseful experience that didn’t take itself too seriously. Unfortunately, for such a simple premise, the film seems unfocused. In too often switching attention from Vicky to the larger drug-smuggling operations behind the scenes, the pacing suffers, and the film abandons its strengths in favor of bland storytelling with predictable outcomes.
There are faint glimmers of intrigue here and there, however, particularly involving the visuals. Employing thick contrast and color grading in practically every shot, “Vanquish” aims for the appearance of a comic book and is often striking to behold, if sometimes overbearingly so. One scene early on, for example, is bathed in green hues and features a camera angle from the perspective of a scurrying rat — an oddball decision, to say the least. More often than not, though, this threatening atmosphere is undone by hyperactive editing that muddles the intensity. The camera rarely slows down, constantly cutting between shots without precision or purpose. I see what Gallo was attempting in trying to create a hazy, sensory feel at certain points, but “Vanquish” needed a more restrained approach overall.
This surface-level quality extends to Vicky herself. Her backstory is relegated to clunky exposition dumps and rushed flashbacks that lack emotional impact. Rose does a passable job with dialogue that chugs along without nuance. We’re not given many opportunities to spend time with her outside of her immediate objectives — rather, we spend a lot of time with Damon and the slimy cops he manages. Portrayed with uneven acting, the officers come across as infinitely less interesting than Vicky.
The film’s video-game-esque skirmishes aren’t especially memorable, despite some impressive gore effects. Except for one moment of cocaine-induced gun fu and a slick motorcycle stunt, they fail to stand out — they’re sometimes downright difficult to follow due to the aforementioned editing.
Side characters don’t fare much better. Damon has an engaging history, but “Vanquish” sends him down a familiar arc as events unfold. Confined to a wheelchair for the entire duration, Freeman doesn’t deliver Damon’s lines with much emotion. Admittedly, this creates some amusing moments of deadpan humor, but Gallo misses an opportunity to give Damon a soul beneath his shady actions — Freeman’s presence is where the primary entertainment comes from. Cynical, calculating, and emotionally distanced from the carnage happening around him, Damon is an over-the-top character that deserves a more over-the-top depiction.
Failing to embrace its B-movie potential, “Vanquish” isn’t the worst option for an action film, but viewers could certainly do better elsewhere.
“Vanquish” is a 2021 action crime thriller directed by George Gallo and starring Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose. It is rated R for bloody violence, language, some sexual material and drug use, and run time is 1 hour, 36 minutes. It opens in theatres April 16. Alex’s Rating: C
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.