”VANQUISH” MOVIE REVIEW

The best movies regale us with surprises and revelations we never anticipate. The worst duplicate better movies and coast on cliches. Oscar-winning Mississippi actor Morgan Freeman teams up with agile Australian starlet Ruby Rose for “Vanquish,” (** OUT OF ****) a trigger-happy, bullet-riddled evening of violence along the Gulf Coast. Writer & director George Gallo, who wrote “Midnight Run” (1988) and “Bad Boys”(1995), writes better than he directs. Sadly, “Vanquish” amounts to a predictable crime and corruption thriller. You can guess everything before it happens, especially if you’ve seen enough crime thrillers. Comparably, “Vanquish” isn’t as exciting as the Scott Adkins’ epic “Seized” (2020) that covered similar ground.

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You know a movie is low budget when it confines its biggest star to a wheelchair. As the primary villain, Freeman doesn’t budge from that buggy during this fair to middling, R-rated, 96-minute melodrama. Happily, Gallo lets Freeman coach our capable heroine through dire straits with body cams and comms from the comfort of his palatial estate throughout the harrowing night. Although he rides out this mayhem in a wheelchair, Freeman is no less a commanding presence, and his solemn line deliveries are sterling.

Lately, Ruby Rose has been playing androgynous females with a penchant for bullets and blood. Despite departures like “The Meg,” Rose has forged a career as a gal good with a gat. She wielded a sniper’s rifle in the Vin Diesel sequel “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” (2017). Later that year, she tangled with Keanu Reeves in “John Wick 2,” then hindered homicidal hooligans in “The Doorman,” (2020), a gripping “Die Hard” clone, and was ruthless as a terrorist in “SAS: Red Notice” (2021). Mind you, Rose’s success as a derring-do dame may pigeonhole her, but the gusto she enlivened her earlier action epics with seems curiously dialed down for “Vanquish.”

You learn half of everything in “Vanquish” before the gunfights and what remains after the cordite has cleared. The action and intrigue plunges our indestructible heroine into several bloodbaths. People who crave expository opening credits will savor the film’s six-minute prologue which provides Damon Hickey’s unusual backstory. Various newspapers rave about the courage of Morgan Freeman’s character. Decorated repeatedly for valorous service, Hickey was later cut down in his prime when a felon’s bullet landed him in a wheelchair for life. “Found Footage” scenarist Sam Bartlett and Gallo are cryptic about many matters in “Vanquish.” We never learn why Hickey strayed from the straight and narrow and turned to skullduggery. Now, crooked as a bent coat hanger, Hickey is up to his ears in crime and corruption. The local constabulary do his bidding, even when they dislike it.

“Vanquish” unfolds with a quartet of local cops beating a fellow detective to death. This incorruptible cop had planned to blow the whistle on them. The discovery of his treachery couldn’t have come at a worse time. Somebody must make the rounds and collect bundles of illicit loot owed Hickey and company. Shrewdly, Hickey orders the corrupt cops to cool it. After all, the authorities may have them under surveillance. Instead, Hickey decides to use his caretaker, Victoria (Ruby Rose), to retrieve those hundreds of thousands of dirty dollars. Hickey assures her that he trusts her more than anybody else.

Now, Victoria would do anything for Hickey. He has been a heaven-sent benefactor to her. Without his help and influence, Victoria would probably be serving time in prison and her young daughter, Lilly (adorable newcomer Juju Journey Brener), would be in a state orphanage. Victoria doesn’t look like she could whip a wet noodle. Decked out in a solid black, tailored outfit with a cream-colored biker’s jacket, Ruby Rose looks boyish with her crew-cut coiffure. Although she appears both slight and harmless, Victoria was once a notorious drug courier for the Russians in Moscow, and she can shoot and kill without a qualm.

Sadly for Damon, Victoria rejects his gunplay proposition. She is struggling to clean up her act and go straight for the sake of her daughter. Unfortunately, Lilly is afflicted with some horrible unknown disease which neither Bartlett nor Gallo ever identify. Suffice to say, the medical costs would be astronomical, and Victoria cannot afford it. Damon offers to cover the costs, but Victoria refuses his generous proposal.

Ultimately, Damon must kidnap Lilly and hold her hostage before he can convince Victoria to make the five pick-ups. Victoria hates Damon. Since she cannot change his mind, she straddles a sleek motorcycle and careens away on it with two automatic pistols prominently holstered against her kidneys. She wears a body cam on her jacket so Damon can monitor each pick-up. More often than not, Damon serves as an extra pair of eyes and ears as she contends with various gangsters who don’t take her seriously.

It doesn’t take “Vanquish” long to wear out your patience with its repetitious shootouts. The abrupt violence that punctuates the first pick-up shows us just how much nonsense our heroine will tolerate. The first encounter ends in gunfire as Victoria shoots three German gangsters in the head collectively and confiscates what they owe Damon. The grieving brother of the dead mobster vows to kill Victoria. Although each rendezvous differs in few respects, the criminals who hand over the loot don’t treat Victoria with the respect she deserves as an adversary.

Gullibly, she sips a glass of water a thug gave her and nearly passes out. Everybody knows you never take a glass of anything from a villain, no matter how parched your throat. Ruby Rose doesn’t display her martial arts expertise. She shoots each adversary once, and blood geysers erupt from their heads. The only genuine surprise in “Vanquish” comes during its explosive finale. Initially, Gallo’s epic opened under the title “The Longest Night,” but the producers changed it since it lacked allure. Apart from Freeman and Rose, “Vanquish” features a sturdy cast of largely unknown actors who take their turns getting blown full of holes.

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