George Gallo wrote “Midnight Run,” one of the best road movies ever and a highlight of ’80s cinema.
He also wrote the original “Bad Boys” and its sequel, “Bad Boys 2.” He made his directorial debut in 1991 and over the past 20 years or so he has steadily churned out mid-major crime thrillers that often feature a somewhat retrograded star (John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro). Gallo is smart and probably pays his bills as they come in.
We might imagine that people like working with him because he delivers. His movies aren’t the sort that aspire to win awards, but they are efficient, unfussy and profitable for all involved. Gallo is an artist, a neo-impressionistic painter of no small reputation, but his movie work is just that: work. Sometimes he slips in a little poetry, but he’s a professional film
And “Vanquish,” which Gallo directed and co-wrote, is a professionally realized movie.
It will not make the first paragraph of his obituary, and Gallo might not mind if no one remembers it too well. It feels a little formulaic and stopgap — as though it was conceived as a pandemic project, a film that might turn the limits imposed by covid-19 into, if not a virtue, at least an interesting parameter.
It stars Ruby Rose, an Australian model turned actor best known, depending on your demographic, for either her Instagram account, her turn as “Batwoman” on The CW, or her supporting role on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” As Victoria, a former Russian assassin and drug courier, she works as a caregiver for a wheelchair-bound retired cop named Damon, who is played by Morgan Freeman, a credibility bestowing empathy magnet who has blessed several of Gallo’s previous ventures with his presence.
The minor twist here, and it is no spoiler, is that Damon, who occupies an Architectural Digest worthy seaside pad, while he has a reputation as a hero — he was crippled when he was shot in the line of duty — is actually a very bad person indeed. He has for years controlled a vast criminal empire built on drugs and prostitution that employs a legion of dirty cops.
But now time is running out for Damon as his former colleagues have finally caught on to his secret life. Damon wants — needs — to cash out and leave for somewhere with no extradition treaty with the U.S. But the trouble is, he’s not exactly liquid and his criminal partners aren’t exactly eager to hand over his share. He’s going to have to make them.
Well, Damon thought it might come to this.
That was part of the reason he helped Victoria make parole. He’s paying for the medical treatments her daughter, Lily (Juju Journey Brener), requires. Damon knows Victoria has a particular set of skills. He thought she might come in handy someday.
But Victoria is innocent of her boss’ complications. She sees him as an old coot who has been very nice to her. She’s determined to turn her life around, to be a good mom and role model for her daughter.
But then Lily is kidnapped. To get her back, Victoria is given a mission. Over the course of a single bloody night, she’s to collect Damon’s money for him, dashing around on her motorcycle, blowing away bad guys and collecting bags of cash. Snappy dialogue is optional.
This video game premise is executed more or less competently, though you get a sense that Gallo, aware of how thin the script actually is, is trying to apply a layer of Luc Besson-style Eurotrash tackiness to add interest to the otherwise flat proceedings. (The perfunctorial banter between Victoria and those about to die is dull and stupid on purpose! Get it?) Victoria isn’t mowing down real bodies, just racking up a score for Damon, who — thanks to the body camera he’s required her to wear — gets a first person shooter’s perspective on the action. Fair enough. “Vanquish” could be a lot better, but it doesn’t need to be to fill the niche it is designed to fill. It is content and the people who seek it out will generally be content with it. Nobody associated with the movie need be embarrassed by it. With this movie at least, Gallo is serving as a jobs creator, and to the extent that the movie pumped a little adrenaline into the economy of Biloxi, Miss. (where it was primarily filmed) it stands as a public good.