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
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.