There’s something about Morgan Freeman that makes us want to believe in him. He’s got that Tom Hanks quality about him that makes us smile when he’s playing God or feel protected when he’s the President. It’s hard to fuck up Morgan Freeman, is what I’m getting at. And yet Vanquish, a dreadful, visually murky action flick co-starring the ubiquitous Ruby Rose does exactly that. It not only makes us feel sorry for Freeman, it kinda makes us dislike him a little bit for agreeing to be part of it.
Directed by George Gallo, Vanquish has Freeman turn heel as Damon, a superstar hero cop bound to a wheelchair after a shooting on the job. But Damon’s posh residence and expensive decour aren’t what anybody could afford on a police salary, or the payout he received from the attack. Corrupt boys in blue are all over this thing, and Damon is right at the center of it. While he seems like a nice guy, taking in wayward single-mother Victoria (Rose) and her daughter, it was all part of a larger scheme. Damon blackmails her into making five big money pick-ups from a slew of unsavory underworld figures, tapping into her dark past as a Russian drug courier and trained killer.
There’s meant to be some John Wick-esque internal conflict here, both within Damon and Victoria as good people forced into doing bad things. But there isn’t nearly enough depth for either figure to explore any of that believably. Victoria settles back into the groove quite easily, actually, perhaps too much for when Rose tries unsuccessfully to dial it back with an emotional moment of regret. Meanwhile, the wheelchair-bound Freeman’s eyes seem to be glazing over with disinterest in his bland bad guy routine. A potentially nifty point has Damon install cameras on Victoria to track her ass-kicking across Los Angeles, but rather than do anything cool it’s basically just an excuse to cut away to Freeman’s hilariously tame reaction shots.
It’s maddening that someone of Freeman’s caliber is reduced to a role this bad. Forget that the movie isn’t any good, that stuff happens. But Freeman CHOSE this role, and that’s all on him.
Rose is a believable badass, though, and while the shootouts and fights she has dirty cops, drug dealers and more are generic she pulls them off quite well. She just has that intangible quality that the best action stars have, even in material that isn’t up to snuff. There’s a lot more that Rose can do within the genre, as seen in her recent flick SAS: Red Notice, while Vanquish is a pretty big step backwards.
Gallo is a veteran filmmaker with some impressive credits to his name, like writing Midnight Run and developing the first Bad Boys movie. His co-written script for Vanquish lacks any sizzle other than a richly-undeserved twist at the end, and the camerawork is strangely amateurish. Saturated greens and blues don’t add to the nocturnal atmosphere, while the overuse of zooms and quick cuts is dated by today’s standards.
The worst offense Vanquish commits is that it wastes the talents of both Freeman and Rose. Don’t let it waste your time, too.
Vanquish is available in select theaters tomorrow April 16th, and on Apple TV and everywhere you can rent movies on Tuesday, April 20th.