When he’s not playing God, voicing God, or playing the President of the United States, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman can be usually found slumming in any number of low-rent, sub-mediocre efforts. Take, for example, writer-director George Gallo’s latest coma-inducing effort, Vanquish. The film is an action-thriller in name and description only. A lazily scripted, poorly directed, ultra-violent throwback to straight-to-video efforts of the pre-streamer days, Vanquish won’t appear on any career highlight reels or tributes for Freeman. Freeman will be missed when he departs from theatres and digital screens, but he certainly won’t be missed for the kind of lacklustre, phoned-in, paycheck-cashing performance he delivers in Vanquish.
In Vanquish, Freeman literally plays a guy in a chair. His character, Damon Hickey, was once a decorated cop, police commissioner, and apparently, a criminal mastermind/kingpin in his spare time. Paralyzed from the waist down by a not-so-errant bullet in Vanquish’s bloated opening montage, the wheelchair-bound Damon has spent his retirement in a sleek, ultra-modern McMansion complete with an indoor swimming pool, a view of the water, and a lifetime of regrets. With no immediate family, friends, or acquaintances, Damon dotes on his personal assistant, Victoria (one-time Batwoman Ruby Rose, using her real Australian accent for once) and her curly-haired, preteen daughter, Lily (Juju Journey Brener). In a shocking non-surprise, Lily’s dying of an unknown, unspecified illness. However, instead of offering Victoria and Lily financial help — Vanquish doesn’t bother to offer an explanation as to whether Damon is tapped out and can’t actually help — he attempts to convince Victoria to go back to her old criminal ways, including the disposal of man-sized, criminal obstacles with extreme prejudice.
Naturally, Victoria doesn’t want any more of that life, but Damon, in his finite wisdom, kidnaps Lily when Victoria isn’t paying attention. He offers Victoria the deal she can’t refuse: Five cash pick-ups from five different locations, all in one night, thus setting in motion what passes for a generic plot in Vanquish. Once unleashed on the criminal underground, Victoria takes few prisoners, disposing of human obstacles with a flick of the wrist and a bullet to the brain. In semi-short order, Victoria works her way through obnoxious German nightclub owners and their henchmen, an African American gang oddly obsessed with curling, and among the film’s borderline offensive stereotypes, a flamboyantly gay, mustachioed creep with a taste for drugging his male employees.
Probably due to a lack of financial resources and filming during the Covid-19 pandemic, Vanquish’s scenes are curiously bereft of people and background extras of any kind. The supposedly open German nightclub caters to roughly four or five patrons, while the African American gangsters hang in what looks like an abandoned Mardi Gras factory. Even Victoria’s last two cash-and-carry pick-ups, one involving a long, corrupt priest biding his time in a cemetery, the other focused on a Frenchman and his goons in a convention centre, are immediately notable for how vastly empty they look and feel. Whatever the reason, the action scenes between the overqualified Victoria and her over-matched foes end almost as quickly as they begin. Victoria never misses a single shot, breaks a sweat, or stains her white leather jacket while disposing of them.
A dull go-nowhere subplot involving corrupt cops who hang out in a diner looks, sounds, and feels like a dinner theater production of a Quentin Tarantino rip-off. If nothing else, it helps to pad the running time so that Vanquish can hit the 90-minute mark. Eventually, though, the corrupt cops have to do something to justify why they’re still lingering in the diner and they finally make a move. They make that move, though, long after the central storyline involving Damon, Victoria, and Lily has resolved itself ridiculously in a faux-feel-good epiphany. Victoria swaps her neon-lit super-bike for a high-end sports car while poorly-rendered CGI backdrops slide past her window, thus ensuring that the film ends as strongly as it began.
Vanquish opens in theaters on April 16th and on AppleTV and via VOD on April 20th.