The opening credits of the slick but lazy crime thriller, “Vanquish,” reveal that Damon (Morgan Freeman) is a decorated cop who is now confined to a wheelchair. He lives in a swanky abode and is cared for by Victoria (out lesbian actress Ruby Rose), who has a sick child, Lily (Juju Journey Brener). When a situation requires Damon’s assistance, he offers Victoria a deal: If she can pick up five bags of cash, he will pay for her daughter’s medical care. To convince her (read: give her no choice), he puts Lily in a locked safe room until she completes the assignment.
Meanwhile, a quartet of corrupt cops, led by Detective Kehoe (Chris Mullinax) are trying to keep a recording that incriminates them out of the hands of Agent Monroe (Patrick Muldoon). They hole up in an empty drugstore and contact Damon, who might be able to help them steer clear of trouble.
“Vanquish” ties these two narratives together, but the film mostly provides an opportunity for Rose to flex her badass muscles as she goes from appointment to appointment meeting unsavory types and collecting cash from them. She certainly looks fierce with her buzzcut hair, her white leather jacket, and the two guns she keeps at her back — at least when she’s not using them to threaten or kill Damon’s contacts. But Rose is hardly convincing as an actress, giving wooden readings to lines like, “It’s just not fair,” when complaining about her daughter’s poor health situation. (Lily’s condition is never specified). Rose can, to her credit, amuse when she dispatches a sarcastic one-liner in a confrontation, but overall her role simply requires her to look tough, which is pretty much all she does.
In support, Morgan Freeman literally phones in his performance, spending most of his screen time talking on a cell or directing Victoria using computer screens and a microphone. Freeman certainly expresses conviction in his line delivery — and he is best when he offers a man, whose brother has been killed by Victoria, his condolences — but the role demands little from the Oscar-winner (which may be the very reason why he accepted it).
Unfortunately, “Vanquish” doesn’t generate much tension in the scenes of Victoria meeting with Damon’s contacts. Her first stop at a German nightclub ends in violence, but Victoria’s efforts to help a woman left alive is mostly useless. Likewise, a sequence where Victoria meets with a group of men in a strange lair is not nearly as uncomfortable for viewers as it is for her. It’s not clear why director Gallo, who cowrote the screenplay with Samuel Bartlett, couldn’t be bothered to up the ante a bit in each segment. Watching Victoria get the best of a handful of men would be satisfying if there was a degree of difficulty.
Arguably the one sequence where all the right elements come together involves Rayo (Joel Michaely), a flamboyant man with wildly decorated room, a penchant for cocaine and Mint Juleps, and two handsome guys on his sofa. Rayo offers Victoria a drink, but she is not the kind of errand girl who wants to be social. However, that is not the response Rayo wants, which is why this vignette gets interesting.
The plotting is mostly step and repeat, with every appointment a trap. But the gotchas could have been more inventive. A storyline about Victoria’s late brother seems to provide an excuse for the bad characters’ bad behavior, but it feels underdeveloped. Likewise, the B-story involving the crooked cops adds little to the narrative. Yes, there are potential double-crosses, but none of these subplots are particularly surprising or inspiring. Even when one scheming character gets dispatched in a novel way, it happens off-screen.
“Vanquish” does get a bit of verve when Agent Monroe tries to get the best of Kehoe and his associates, but most of the film feels underwhelming. At least the copious chase scenes provide some excitement, even if the pulse-pounding soundtrack cues viewers that there is some action on screen.
Gallo also makes some odd choices, such as using flashbacks to scenes that have literally just happened when Victoria is riding on her motorcycle. These moments may suggest what she is thinking — about her daughter, about Damon — but they seem like filler, not motivation, as she zooms to and from each appointment on her bike.
Rose cuts a striking figure in the film, and she can be fun to watch when she efficiently dispatches the various characters she encounters. But other than some gunplay, she is mostly confined to motorcycle chases. Anyone hoping “Vanquish” would provide Rose with a real kickass action character will be disappointed by this lackluster film.
“VANQUISH” | Directed by George Gallo | In select theaters; on demand and digital April 20; on DVD and Blu-Ray April 27 | Distributed by Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment Group, a Lionsgate Company
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