Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman is one of the best actors anywhere. Just a partial list of his films — ”The Shawshank Redemption,” “Glory,” “Seven,” “Unforgiven,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Million Dollar Baby” — makes any filmgoer bow in admiration.
So it’s a form of actor abuse to see this 83-year-old legend forced to wrap his distinctive, resonant, iconic voice around the gibberish dialogue in “Vanquish,” the relentlessly violent and vapid action-thriller now in theaters and on-demand, though I can’t imagine anyone actually demanding it.
Freeman stars as Damon, a former police commissioner whose wounds acquired in the line of duty sent him into retirement in a wheelchair. Now he lives in a mansion cared for by Victoria, played by Ruby Rose, who once ran drugs for Russian gangsters until Damon rescued her from a life of crime, along with her young daughter, Lily (Juju Journey Brener).
The wheelchair allows Freeman to basically sit out the movie as Damon reveals his own criminal past and calls on Victoria to use her “old skills” as a courier and killing machine to run five errands over a single night. Victoria wears a body cam so Damon can keep tabs on her. Failure to follow orders will mean it’s curtains for Lily, the kid Damon holds hostage.
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Let the killing begin. That seems to be the only order issued by director-writer George Gallo, who wrote the superb “Midnight Run” in 1988 and then let his talent dissipate in various projects culminating in his career nadir with “Vanquish.”
In addition to casting Freeman in a rare role as a baddie, Gallo paints the film in muddy shades of green and red so you have to squint to see what’s going on. He then piles on a synth score to give the illusion of momentum. But the movie just sits there like Freeman — waiting for something, anything, to happen — as Damon whispers instructions to Victoria on his headset.
Instead, the audience is forced to endure stunt work on highways and in nightclubs that go by in a blur. “I heard you killed more people than Quentin Tarantino,” says one of Victoria’s targets.
Evoking the name of a skilled director who knows how to make action define character does no favors for “Vanquish.”
Or to Rose. The Australian model and TV host showed real acting chops as tough-talking inmate Stella Carlin on “Orange Is the New Black” and a real flair for action choreography opposite Keanu Reeves in “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Back surgery forced her exit from “Batwoman,” along with backlash that the gender-fluid Rose was neither lesbian nor Jewish as DC Comics reintroduced the character in 2006.
The impression persists that Rose will eventually find her star-making vehicle. “Vanquish” is definitely not it. As Gallo strands newcomer Rose and veteran Freeman in 96 minutes of plot incoherence, the only lesson this unwatchable mess might offer to students of cinema is how to do everything calamitously wrong.
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