Some bad movies feel phoned in and dull, or walk a safe middle-ground and never take risks. Others, like George Gallo’s “Vanquish,” are so weirdly clueless that the only appropriate responses are jaws dropping or laughter.
Opening Friday in theaters and on digital on April 20, “Vanquish” is a terrible movie made by people who should have known better.
Gallo made his writing debut in 1986 on Brian De Palma’s “Wise Guys” and followed with the classic “Midnight Run” starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. He co-wrote 1995’s “Bad Boys,” worked on 1999’s “Analyze This” and directed a dozen movies of his own, including 2009’s interesting “Middle Men,” about the beginning of the internet porn industry.
But the first few minutes of “Vanquish” seem as though they were made by someone who had never even seen a camera, let alone picked one up. The whole movie feels off, as if wrong angles were chosen, shots were too long or too short, and the sound crew never found the right tone.
Perhaps it’s because the story has many head-scratching dead spots.
It begins with a montage, showing Damon (Morgan Freeman), a hero cop, doing brave things and earning 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”), arrives to fix his dinner, her young daughter Lily (Juju Journey Brener) in tow. Lily is dying of a mysterious movie disease that’s 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.
He does it 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 is a badass.
She jumps on a motorcycle and heads off into the night. During her ride, the movie flashes back to the conversation we’ve just heard two minutes ago. That happens repeatedly.
Meanwhile, four men are busy beating up some guy. We see it first from the point of view of the bleary, beaten man, and then from — get this — the distorted POV of a rat scuttling along the molding.
So what’s going on? Apparently Damon is, despite his reputation, a dirty cop, which also explains his giant house. There are many phone calls between Damon and the four cops in which Damon says, “I’ll handle it.”
A guess is that the cops are on the verge of being caught. But what about Victoria? She collects black bags of money from different gangsters. What the money is for, why assignments are dangerous, and other questions are never answered.
Her first stop involves German gangsters. She takes money, then shoots them, because, we learn later, they killed her brother. What brother? We see a couple of seconds of him in another flashback.
In an offensive turn, another stop involves a squadron of Black gangsters. Victoria sets her eyes on one in the back of the room, a very large, perhaps overweight man, who is, of course, eating something. She uses him as a shield to get out of the room alive. Another stop is — not kidding — gangsters led by a mustachioed, gay stereotype.
Freeman spends most of the movie in a chair, in his fabulous mansion, looking at video screens and talking on the phone or through a com link.
This five-time Oscar nominee and winner for “Million Dollar Baby,” a great actor and a living legend, clearly is doing a job for money. (He worked with director Gallo on a 2019’s “The Poison Rose,” which sports a 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating.)
It’s heartbreaking. Let’s hope he’s not on the same direct-to-video path being trod by Bruce Willis.
Rose at least gets to look cool, though she’s sabotaged by irritating camerawork and odd editing choices: a strange overuse of dissolves, like in a Lifetime movie, and swipe-cuts.
In one long, dumb chase scene, Victoria tries to elude Germans in cars while on her motorcycle. She rides on until a Mack truck helpfully pulls out so that she can slide underneath 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 there somewhere, as is Nick Vallelonga, 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?”
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Ruby Rose, Patrick Muldoon, Nick Vallelonga
Written by: George Gallo, Samuel Bartlett
Directed by: George Gallo
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes