Vanquish review – Ruby Rose slugs it out on a motorbike

Rose has the poise to carry this action movie about an alpha mama collecting money from narcotics nasties, but it’s cartoonish

With the superhero’s gentrification of the blockbuster business, there is little space any more for big-budget original action movies. So up-and-comers such as Ruby Rose – seen earlier this year opposite Jean Reno in The Doorman – are forced to slug it out in the B-movie arena, from where there’s no guarantee they’ll ever emerge into stardom. Rose looks great – her androgynous poise reminiscent of the young Angelina Jolie – and does a capable job carrying Vanquish. But you wonder if this noir-filtered, John Wick-apeing thriller is a little too stripped-back for its own good to advance her career.

Rose plays Victoria, carer to Damon (Morgan Freeman), a wheelchair-bound retired cop whose ridiculously upscale mansion hints at off-the-books income. But she has a secret past, too: as a top drug courier in Berlin for the Russian mafia. So when Damon decides to call in money from his narcotics contacts, he forces Victoria to make the five stops necessary – and takes her daughter hostage as insurance. The alpha mama takes to her superbike for a whistlestop underworld tour, strapped up with a helmet and chestcam letting her blackmailer eyeball her rendezvous.

Rose’s cartoonish assignations (some homeboys, a priest, a big-mouth mustachioed dealer in the mould of Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights), coupled with a scattering of plot morsels, give just enough narrative momentum to get Vanquish over the line. Director George Gallo is oddly relaxed about the finer details – such as how his heroine manages, held at gunpoint, to remove a hand grenade from her jacket, detonate it and escape unharmed – but he does have a talent for general ambience. Rose has an entrancingly tense entrance when she walks in on an African American gang as they watch an unlikely combination of curling and soft porn on giant screens.

But the in-camera gimmick, with Freeman literally phoning it in on Rose’s headset, lends a strangely passive, vicarious overlay to much of the action – which is not particularly well-marshalled. There is no John Wick-style long-take high-wire act here – it’s simpler just to make Rose so deadly she never misses a headshot. Speaking of careers, this listless fodder is not where you’d have predicted Gallo, writer of 80s masterpiece Midnight Run, to end up.

• Vanquish is available online on 28 May.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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