Tag Archives: F

VANQUISH

Producers: David E. Ornston, Nate Adams and Richard Salvatore   Director: George Gallo   Screenplay: George Gallo and Sam Bartlett   Cast: Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose, Patrick Muldoon, Nick Vallelonga, Chris Mullinax, Dylan Flashner, Paul Sampson, Julie Lott, Bill Luckett, Joel Michaely, Miles Doleac and Juju Journey Brener   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: F

At the start of “Vanquish,” Morgan Freeman, as Damon, a much-honored ex-police detective in a wheelchair as a result of being shot on the job, enters a confessional to get absolution from a priest (Bill Luckett).  He says that he has much to atone for.  It’s a prescient scene:  Freeman certainly needs forgiveness for making this terrible movie.

That’s a bit of a surprise, since writer-director George Gallo has had some success in the past (though, to be fair, the rather distant past) and co-star Ruby Rose made a brief splash recently in the first season of CW’s “Batwoman.”

But here even the basic premise lacks interest.  Damon may be respected, but he’s a crook, the mastermind behind a bunch of crooked cops collecting the profits of the city’s illegal operations.  (The movie was shot in Biloxi, Mississippi, though the locale is apparently meant to be anonymous.)  Their cover is blown, however, when one of the gang proves to be an informant.  He’s killed before he can close down the operation, but the damage has been done.

Damon decides to scoop up his share of the proceeds while he can, and to do so he enlists his housekeeper Victoria (Rose).  She’s beautiful but lethal, a onetime drug runner and assassin with her now-dead brother who turned over a new leaf in order to raise her darling daughter Lily (Juju Journey Brener), who suffers from a serious illness.  Damon became their protector and support.

Now, however, he demands that she use her old skills to gather his ill-gotten gains.  She’ll have to go to no fewer than five criminal dens to collect the cash, and though she’d rather not, Damon kidnaps Lily to force her hand.  So Victoria jumps on her motorcycle and does his bidding, although he puts herself in danger at each stop, at most of which there are powerful people who hold personal grudges against her.

She’s helped—or not—by the camera and earpiece Damon orders her to wear.  The devices allow him to see things from her perspective and offer advice about how she should proceed, especially when she’s back on her bike being chased by villains as she makes her way back to Damon’s magnificent pad after each stop.  The back-and-forth between her efforts and his reactions just has the effect of dragging the picture out needlessly. 

Gallo tries to give the various places on the itinerary some special character, but the effort is a bust, and a grim, tedious repetitiousness quickly sets in.  The action has little style, the various villains Victoria has to deal with are sleazy caricatures, and the occasional attempts at humorous dialogue fall abysmally flat. 

To make matters worse, Freeman delivers his dreary dialogue as if he were intoning the phone book at half-speed, and Rose is apparently aiming to move her facial muscles as little as possible for the duration.  Perhaps it’s her way of trying not to laugh at the utter inanity of it all.  The rest of the cast is unremarkable, except for the ones who mercilessly ham it up.  The movie is visually drab as well, with a production design by Joe Lemmon that, apart from Damon’s house, is chintzy and cinematography by Anastas Michos that’s glossily repellent.  Editor Yvan Gauthier was frankly stuck with a hopeless task molding this material into something worth watching, and Aldo Shlialku’s score can’t give it any pep.      

In the end the fundamental problem with “Vanquish” is that it’s thin and boring.  During one of her stops Victoria is drugged and nearly unconscious.  Damon tries to help by shouting into her earpiece “Stay awake!”  He might as well be speaking to us.  The original title of the movie was apparently “The Longest Night,” and by the close it certainly feels like it. 

HARD KILL

Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Shaun Sanghani, Alex Eckert, Tim Sullivan and Mark Stewart   Director: Matt Eskandari   Screenplay: Joe Russo and Chris LaMont   Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Bruce Willis, Natalie Eva Marie, Lala Kent, Texas Battle, Swen Temmel, Sergio Rizzuto, Tyler Jon Olson, Jacquie Nguyen and Jon Galanis   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade: F

Whatever gave moviemakers the idea that stuffing an action flick with endless gun battles in which small armies of brainless adversaries shoot away at one another with automatic weapons was remotely exciting or entertaining?  Yet that’s about all “Hard Kill” has to offer.  A conservative estimate might put the cost of all the blanks fired in the course of the running-time at fifty per-cent of the total budget—if it weren’t for the fact that a considerable sum must have been allocated to the salary paid Bruce Willis for appearing in it.

Note that the operative word is “appearing” rather than “acting,” since he really does none of the latter in his role as Donovan Chalmers, a tech mogul who was once a legendary soldier.  What passes for a plot kicks in when Derek Miller (Jesse Metcalfe, beefed up considerably since his days as a teen TV soap opera heartthrob and sporting a beard and full panoply of tattoos to look macho, though his thespian abilities have progressed very little), who now leads a gang of hotshots-for-hire composed of his old army squadron,  is approached by Chalmers’ aide Nick Fox (Texas Battle, if you can swallow that name)—who once saved his life in combat—to take on an assignment: Miller and his crew will protect the mogul as he inspects a deserted factory he’s considering buying for a new plant of some sort. 

Miller is suspicious that there’s more to the job than Fox is saying, but he owes the guy, and so persuades his team—beauteous hard-ass Sasha Zindel (Natalie Eva Marie), her reckless brother Harrison (Jon Galsanis), and gung-ho Dash Hawkins (Swen Temmel) —to take on the assignment.

Naturally it’s a set-up.  Once at the factory, Chalmers and Fox inform them of the truth.  The mogul’s estranged daughter Ava (Lala Kent), who’d been developing a revolutionary AI system called Project 725, has fallen in with a notorious terrorist called The Pardoner (Sergio Rizzuto), who aims to use the invention to destroy the world’s technological underpinnings so that humanity—or its survivors—will be forced to start anew with a clean slate.  (He’s an idealist of sorts, you see.)  But to pull off the plan he needs the code to start the program, which only the old man knows.  The crew at the factory is bait to draw the madman to attack in hope of exchanging Ava for the code—or something like that. 

What results is a prolonged stand-off between the two sides.  Ava has reconsidered her alliance with the terrorist, of course, and she and daddy overcome their former misunderstandings.  Miller has to face off against the Pardoner, whom he’s met before (their re-acquaintance naturally involves protracted hand-to-hand combat).  With one exception (Jacqie Nguyen as his tech-savvy henchwoman), The Pardoner’s black-clad crew prove extraordinarily inept, while Miller’s are crack shots.

The script’s premise is dumb from the get-go, and the writers manage to encumber it with virtually every hackneyed action-movie situation and line of dialogue imaginable.  The result is completely risible, especially because the acting is unremittingly leaden (with Kent especially amateurish and Rizzuto spouting ludicrous lines about establishing a “new world order” in a thin, squeaky voice) and the gun-battle choreography sloppy.  The drab setting credited to production designer Daniel Alan Baker and murky cinematography of Bryan Koss accentuate the bargain-basement quality of the enterprise, while Matt Eskandari’s lackadaisical direction and Rudi Cooper’s sluggish editing italicize its claustrophobic cheapness.  Rhyan D’Errico’s maddening score tries to infuse the proceedings with some energy but fails miserably.          

The title of this noisy, stupid, totally boring bomb should really be “Hard Watch”—unless you’re willing to treat its avalanche of clichés as an invitation to an unintentional laugh-fest.