Combustible Celluloid
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With: Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose, Patrick Muldoon, Nick Vallelonga, Chris Mullinax, Dylan Flashner, Paul Sampson, Julie Lott, Bill Luckett, Joel Michaely, Miles Doleac, Juju Journey Brener
Written by: George Gallo, Samuel Bartlett, based on a story by Samuel Bartlett
Directed by: George Gallo
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, language, some sexual material and drug use
Running Time: 96
Date: 04/16/2021

Vanquish (2021)

1 Star (out of 4)

Languishing 'Vanquish'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Some bad movies feel phoned in and dull, or walk a safe middle-ground and never take any risks. Other bad movies, like George Gallo's Vanquish, are so weirdly clueless that the only appropriate responses are jaws dropping or laughter.

Opening Friday in select theaters — followed by on demand and digital on April 20 — Vanquish is a terrible movie made by people who should have known better.

Gallo is no newcomer to the business. He made his writing debut back in 1986 on Brian De Palma's Wise Guys and followed that up with the classic Midnight Run, starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin.

He also co-wrote 1995's Bad Boys and worked on 1999's Analyze This, as well as directing a dozen movies of his own, starting in 1991 and including the interesting 2009 film Middle Men, about the beginning of the internet porn industry.

Yet within the first few minutes of Vanquish, it feels as if this is a film made by someone who had never even seen a camera before, let alone picked one up.

The whole thing just feels off, as if all the wrong angles were chosen, the shots were either too long or too short, and the sound crew never quite found the right tone.

Perhaps this is because of the story, with its many head-scratching dead spots.

It begins with an opening-credits montage, showing us that Damon (Morgan Freeman) was a hero cop, doing many brave things and earning many honors, before some scoundrel with a grudge attacked him in his home. Now he is wheelchair-bound.

His caretaker, Victoria (Ruby Rose, from Orange Is the New Black and John Wick: Chapter 2), arrives to fix his dinner, her young daughter Lily (Juju Journey Brener) in tow. Lily is dying of some mysterious movie disease which is never explained, other than to say she's had "test after test."

Damon, who lives in a fantastically huge house complete with bluish mood lighting, wants to help Lily. And he does this by kidnapping the child and forcing Victoria to go on a dangerous mission. If she successfully makes five pick-ups from five locations, she gets Lily back.

Victoria says "I promised myself I would never do this again," although it's not clear just what "this" is. The IMDb plot synopsis says she's a "former drug courier," though there's no telling for sure. However, she currently is a badass.

She jumps on a motorcycle and heads off into the night. During her ride, the movie gives us a flashback to the conversation we've just heard two minutes ago — in case we forgot. There are many more of these.

Meanwhile, four men are busy beating up some guy. We see this first from the point of view of the bleary, beaten man, and then from — get this — the distorted POV of a rat which has been scuttling along the molding.

Why? The only answer is "why not?"

So what's going on here? Apparently Damon is, despite his reputation, a dirty cop, which would also explain the giant house he lives in. There are many phone calls between Damon and the four cops in which Damon says, "I'll handle it."

A best guess is that the cops are on the verge of being caught. But what about Victoria's errands? She collects black bags of money from different groups of gangsters. What the money is for, why the assignment is dangerous, and other questions are never answered.

Her first stop involves German gangsters. She collects her money and shoots all of them, because, we learn later, they killed her brother. What brother? Don't worry. We'll see a couple of seconds of him in another flashback.

Then the movie turns offensive. Another stop involves a squadron of Black gangsters. Victoria sets her eyes on one of them in the back of the room, a very large, perhaps overweight man, who is, of course, eating something. She uses him as a big shield to get out of the room alive.

Another stop is — not kidding here — a group of gangsters led by a mustachioed, gay stereotype.

And so it goes. Freeman spends most of the movie in his chair, in his fabulous mansion, looking at video screens and talking on the phone or through a com link.

This is a five-time Oscar nominee, and winner for Million Dollar Baby, a great actor and a living legend, very clearly doing a job for money. (And, he previously worked with director Gallo on a 2019 movie called The Poison Rose, which currently sports a 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating.)

It's heartbreaking. Lets hope he's not on the same direct-to-video path currently being trod by Bruce Willis.

Rose at least gets to look cool, although she's sabotaged by the movie's irritating camerawork and odd editing choices: a strange overuse of dissolves — which make this feel like a Lifetime movie — and swipe-cuts.

In one long, dumb chase scene, Victoria tries to elude several Germans in cars while on her motorcycle. She rides on and on, until a Mack truck helpfully pulls out so that she can slide underneath it and trap her pursuers. Apparently that was her plan: waiting for a truck to show up.

Aside from Freeman and Rose, most of the rest of the cast is unfamiliar, although Patrick Muldoon, who was once on Melrose Place, is in there somewhere, as is Nick Vallelonga, the fellow who wrote and won an Oscar for Green Book, based on the life of his father.

Why was this movie made? The only answer is "why not?"

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