Watching Ryuhei Kitamura’s latest THE PRICE WE PAY this week reminded me to finally catch up with his previous one, THE DOORMAN (2020). I remember I was excited that he did a Ruby Rose action vehicle, but I heard some negative things and it scared me off. I shouldn’t listen to that stuff, because I like so many movies that normal humans hate, but I’m susceptible to rumors of poor action scenes.
That criticism is fair. Many of the action scenes are pretty choppy, they’re certainly not up to the state of the art in the 87Eleven era. And I do think this is a movie that could go over really well if it had a couple knockout fights. So that’s too bad. But I still enjoyed it on a story and character level like I would, say, a Liam Neeson movie where you’d have way less of the real shit than this. So if you’re okay with that, I recommend it.
If you’re not familiar with Ruby Rose, she’s an Australian former model and MTV host who started acting and suddenly became a minor action star by playing colorful supporting roles in RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, xXx: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 and THE MEG. She was perhaps best known for playing Batwoman on TV, but she left after a season because of a serious back injury from a stunt.
They say her trademark is androgyny, and in fact she identifies as non-binary (but is okay with she/her pronouns). If you ask me, short hair and hand tattoos don’t stop her from looking feminine, but she has a cool look and I love seeing different types of people plugged into traditional action plots.
Here she plays U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Ali Gorski, in Bucharest riding in a convoy with an ambassador’s daughter. She’s there for security but the kid clearly sees her as the cool aunt or babysitter; being great with kids is her badass juxtaposition. When the convoy is attacked she demonstrates her talent for thinking, aiming, and firing very quickly, with economical movements. She’s able to pop in and out of the car, immediately choose her targets, take them out with one shot, move to the next and the next. Still, she fails, because this is the traumatic incident prologue. (Thank you thank you thank for not setting it in the Middle East!)
Discharged and back home in New York City she commiserates over beers with her very supportive Vietnam vet uncle Pat (Philip Whitchurch, THE ENGLISH PATIENT), and takes him up on an offer to work as a doorman at The Carrington, a historic apartment building where he does maintenance. It’ll be laid back because they’re doing renovations, and only two apartments are still occupied. Also, as it turns out, she’ll get to be the hero of DIE-HARD-in-a-smaller-building. But first, some family shit.
Ali is disappointed to learn that the single father who’s still in the building until Monday morning is her brother-in-law Jon Stanton (Rupert Evans, HELLBOY). See, back in the day they had an affair, and she felt terrible for betraying her sister, so she joined the Marines to get away. Then her sister died in a car accident and she still feels bad about it and doesn’t want to see him again. And she’s gonna kill Uncle Pat for setting her up for this.
Jon is just as shocked to see her, but thinks she should meet her niece and nephew (man – how long has she been gone?). She doesn’t want to, but fortunately the cat gets loose so she helps little Lily (Kíla Lord Cassidy, THE WONDER) catch him, in the process becoming her hero for rappelling into a pit on a fire hose. She also meets her angsty teenage nephew Max (Julian Feder, WEINER DOG NATIONALS), who knows the way around the closed off portions of the building, and some of the history like secret passages for servants and a brick wall that borders an unfinished subway tunnel. I don’t care if it’s obvious – I’m a sucker for that type of action-geography-foreshadowing.
Here’s where the DIE HARD comes in. Ali’s fellow doorman Borz (Aksel Hennie, MAX MANUS: MAN OF WAR, HERCULES, THE MARTIAN) is the inside man in a plot to steal precious paintings hidden somewhere in the building. He kills Uncle Pat (with a hammer, because it’s Kitamura), and brings in his employer Victor Dubois (Jean Reno, who was in the American GODZILLA and is now being directed by its killer).
The other people still in the building are Mrs. Hersch (Delianne Forget, whose only other role is playing Angela Merkel in The Pentaverate) and her disabled husband (Petre Moraru, WATCHER). Turns out Mr. Hersch has a secret Cold War past with Dubois and stole the paintings. They torture him into grunting that he hid them in the walls, but they smash every one before figuring out that he means the apartment he lived in before he had his stroke and had to move to the ground floor. They’re up in 10C, the one the Stantons live in.
Ali has the day off but gets mixed up in this by reluctantly agreeing to have Easter dinner with the Stantons. But she’s out of the apartment when the gunmen invade, and Max has been sent to his room, so they’re able to sneak off and go McClane. They find a hidden room that was a speakeasy, steal guns from attackers, get the fire alarm operating (but then Borz convinces the fire department it’s a false alarm), etc. Jon, a writer, Columbia professor and scholar of art and history, manages to engage Dubois (who fancies himself an intellectual) in conversation as a distraction.
The riffs on DIE HARD are very apparent, but not too heavy-handed. Instead of Christmas Eve it’s Easter, instead of being barefoot she’s wearing heels and a dress, instead of climbing down an elevator shaft it’s a dumbwaiter, instead of taunting the villain over a walkie talkie it’s the building’s vintage intercom system.
Dubois has a solid crew of henchmen, most notably Dan Southworth (U.S. SEALS II, BROKEN PATH, THE BUTCHER, MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY, DESTROYER, BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN) sporting a blond mohawk as “Pee Wee.” Sadly her duel to the death with him is pretty short and disorientingly shot. Other bad guys include Hideaki Itô (THE PRINCESS BLADE) and David Sakurai (IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE, ACTS OF VENGEANCE), and Louis Mandylor (THE DEBT COLLECTOR) is in the apartment as the bespectacled safe cracker. (Turns out the paintings aren’t just in the walls, they’re in a safe, so it’s gonna take a while.)
Borz is the most hatable bad guy because he murdered Uncle Pat, enjoyed torturing Mr. Hersch, and is such a traitor to his apartment building co-workers. Even before he’s revealed as a villain he introduces himself to Ali in the locker room wearing only a towel. His general vibe is like Bill Burr – both the regular working class guy charm and the bitter, resentful side. (But he’s in way better shape, we saw, because he was naked). It’s funny to see Dubois get more and more pissed at him for his fuckups such as not mentioning that there’s another family in the building or that they’re being visited by a badass war hero.
Which reminds me, there’s a Just How Badass Is She? courtesy of Google. They type in her name and immediately see which regiment she was in and what medals she won. “What is a decorated soldier doing here as a doorman?”
Yeah, well, I also doorman.
It’s yet another action movie that worships soldiers, but at least it’s the rare one that doesn’t extend the glory to cops. Max manages to get out of the building and asks for help from an officer parked on the street, and it’s just like trying to get help from the guy at the gas station in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE – the motherfucker is in on it. Eventually some cops who aren’t in on it – six guys who call themselves “Alpha Team” – show up, but Borz tells them Ali is the bad guy and they take his word for it, let him go, and get her at gunpoint. Luckily there’s an explosion upstairs and they flinch so she does a flying kicking and gets them all on the ground in a couple moves. Support the troops.
If I may have some constructive criticism of Ali I don’t like how she dumps the paintings on the ground to fuck with Borz. He only cares because they’re valuable, but she oughta have more respect for history than that. Maybe she’s rebelling against her brother-in-law.
The stunt coordinators are Razvan Gheorghiu (WATCHER) and Simon “Dae Han from THE BEST OF THE BEST” Rhee (THE SUBSTITUTE 3–4, THE MUPPETS, TERMINATOR GENISYS, CARTER). It does have some fun action bits, aided by Kitamura’s tendency to go a little nastier than normal people. So Ali is not only a natural auntie but knows how to build a nail bomb from cleaning and construction supplies and turn a motherfucker into a pin cushion. Also the climactic death involves flying through the air and sticking to a Russell Mulcahy style giant-fan-with-a-light-behind-it (which for some reason has a huge spike in the middle!?). And then Ali stands and watches his flaming corpse spin around on the thing. It’s no THE PRICE WE PAY barbed wire finale, but it’s pretty fuckin good.
And there are some nice Kitamura visual flourishes – in the prologue the explosion seems to send her flying into the bed where she wakes up in the present, and there’s a weird rotating camera rig during an action scene reminiscent of the amazing water wheel shot in AZUMI.
The screenplay is credited to Lior Chefetz & Joe Swanson (SKY RAIDERS) & Devon Rose, story by Mathew McAllester & Gregory Williams. An early article I found about the movie describes the doorman befriending a family in the building, and that made me realize that the natural way to do the story is either she works there and meets this family and they invite her over for Easter dinner, or she doesn’t work there and her family invites her over for Easter dinner. I’m convinced that it started as the first one and was rewritten with the sister and the affair to get some more melodrama in there. It might’ve been worth it – I like that her uncle tricks her into reconnecting with family – but it would explain why it’s so convoluted, her getting this job in a building where she’s related to 1/2 of the staff and 3/5 of the tenants but wasn’t aware of that second fact.
At the time of that article the movie was going to star Katie Holmes. I couldn’t find any reported reason for her leaving, but it must’ve been pretty last minute, because she was interviewed by People Magazine when she’d been weight training, boxing, and had already cut hair short. I’d like to see her try an action movie, but I’m glad Ruby Rose got to do this one.
Surprisingly it’s a few emotional beats that I think make the story effective. The reason the Stantons are still in the building is that Lily wanted to cook Easter dinner like her mom always did. The reason Ali is not in the apartment when the gunmen show up is that Lily spilled the sentimentally important mint sauce and got really upset, so Ali went to see if the Hersches could loan them some. Thankfully I didn’t lose my parents until I was middle aged, but I relate to this kid thinking about her mom on a holiday and putting extra expectations on these traditions as a way to connect to her memory.
But the one that really got me is between Ali and Max. When he meets her he crassly asks if she killed anybody overseas. When he actually sees her kill with his own eyes he goes into shock. We learn that he hates his dad and thinks “he’s a pussy” for not being able to save Mom when their car went underwater. In order to prove to himself that “I’m not my father!” he keeps doing stupid tough guy shit like running at the bad guys instead of away from them, and wants Ali to give him a gun, but when she does he has a hard time pulling the trigger, and clearly believes he too is a pussy.
So in the epilogue when he tells Ali “It’s all my fault” and laments his lack of manhood for not shooting somebody, but she makes him feel better about it, and then when he tries to leave stoically but suddenly runs over with tears in his eyes and hugs her, it kinda fucked me up for a second! Didn’t see that coming. The young man pressuring himself to live up to a certain idea of masculinity, and the manly woman teaching him to express his feelings. Pushes all my buttons I guess. And it’s something unusual about our first non-binary action star – she can be badass but also very caring and supportive and it doesn’t break any gender expectations because she never signed on to those rules anyway.
Since I enjoyed THE DOORMAN I decided to make it a Ruby Rose double feature, so I put on this other one I remembered seeing the cover for, VANQUISH. Unfortunately the cover is the most professional part of the movie. I knew I was in trouble well before the title appeared, because there’s a very long, very ugly credits sequence, with corny thriller music playing over a repetitive montage of fake newspaper articles with photos of Morgan Freeman (HARD RAIN) under headlines like “ROOKIE COP SAVES FOUR” and “HERO COP RECEIVES MEDAL”. I know this is far from the first movie to do that, but it’s one of those things that makes me think, “Have the people who made this movie never looked at a newspaper, or are they just making movies for people who have never looked at a newspaper?” I guess it’s been a while for me, too, maybe there really are full page articles depicting every milestone in an officer’s career, indicating when they’re a rookie, etc.
That’s not the problem, though. It’s that it’s so immediately transparent that they gave up on trying to tell an exciting story because their only priority is to streeeeeetch whatever piddly amount of material they have into something that technically counts as a releasable feature length film. So they have endless credits. Then endless establishing shots. There is never just one establishing shot, always a series of them. Then there are these scenes with a room full of macho sleazy cop assholes (Patrick Muldoon from STARSHIP TROOPERS is one of them) having these totally unengaging conversations. And they’re sure to show them walking into the room, at an unnaturally slow pace, before they begin talking.
In my early days of reviewing DTV movies I coined the term “Avid farts,” usually referring to these annoying flash cuts every movie like this used to use in scene transitions. It was clear that producers or editors or somebody were getting addicted to them just because they were easy tricks to do when everything switched to digital and they thought it added production value or something. That trend died off years ago, maybe more than a decade ago, but here’s one where it seems like they just got bored with regular cuts and keep using dissolves over and over even if it’s just two characters talking. It’s fuckin weird. Credited editor Yvan Gauthier did FEMALE FIGHT SQUAD, a movie I think is very good, so I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt that some producer made him do it this way.
I also noticed that one of the actors playing a dirty cop was Nick Vallelonga, Academy Award winner for producing and co-writing best picture winner GREEN BOOK, in which Viggo Mortensen played his dad. Whatever you think of that movie, most of the other stuff he’s involved with is amateurish b-movie stuff, the most notable one being DEADFALL (which he wrote), which would be hard to get behind without the legendary Nic Cage performance. So I assumed this must be directed by some dude he knows that owns night clubs or something and was trying out directing for the first and last time. Very wrong! Director/co-writer George Gallo wrote WISE GUYS, MIDNIGHT RUN and the first BAD BOYS, and he directed TRAPPED IN PARADISE, the Eddie Griffin movie DOUBLE TAKE, and a bunch of other stuff. I’m not saying the ones he directed are great, but they suggest a level of competence not present here.
Rose (with her hair completely shaved) plays Victoria, a former drug courier who has gone clean and is so thankful to Damon (Freeman), a cop who helped her out, that she and her young daughter Lily (Juju Journey Brener, HOCUS POCUS 2) – yes, same name as the niece she’s protecting in THE DOORMAN – come over to take care of him now that he’s in a wheelchair. Despite that very long credits sequence about him being a hero cop, we are now told that he is a disgraced cop. Rose says she knows better because she knows him personally and he tells her no, believe it, I’m a bad guy.
He asks her to do an illegal drug dealer/stealing money thing, and she basically says “I would do anything for [hero cop] but not that,” so he has somebody take Lily hostage to force her hand. Yes, this is a movie where Freeman has a couple scenes in one location talking to Ruby Rose and for the rest he’s talking to her over a headset while she does the stuff. I think it’s more an indictment of the way films have to be financed and scheduled today than of Freeman’s career that even an actor of his stature ends up doing these “Pay me X for two afternoons of work and I’m sure you can figure out how to make it seem like a real movie. Oh, and for that price I gotta be sitting down the whole time” type gigs.
So she goes around to these different crime spots, with a camera attached to her so Damon can watch, and takes money from various criminals, many of which are old enemies of hers and she ends up having to kill them. Ultimately she meets with the governor (Gallo’s wife Julie Lott, who’s in most of his movies), who tries to recruit her to take out Damon, but Victoria kills her instead.
There’s a pretty funny twist at the end (SPOILER FOR PRETTY FUNNY TWIST AT THE END) that although Damon abducted and threatened a little girl and forced Victoria to risk her life and freedom and spoil her reformed life by committing a massive murder spree, including assassinating the fucking governor, he was actually doing her a huge favor. You see, it was a master plan to help her kill off all her old enemies. And then he lures all the corrupt cops to come after him at his house and blows them up along with himself. Internal affairs Jigsaw.
I can get behind that premise, but unfortunately the filmmaking is so abominable, it was a real chore to get through. The only time it felt like it had a pulse was when Victoria rode her motorcycle and they had cool shots of her face in the helmet. But then they use that trick over and over again. Probly the same footage.
The phoniness of the movie around Rose makes her seem more like a poseur grimacing and acting tough. But I forgive her. Her appeal is more personality than authenticity anyway. And I like seeing her do corny one-liners.
She gets a pass for VANQUISH but I don’t recommend it. I’m a THE DOORMAN man.
February 23rd, 2023 at 11:41 am
The female Christian Slater i.e Actor Studios Desperately Tried To Sell As A Credible Action Star for a very brief window of time before saner heads observed Slater’s terminal sneer and Rose’ bug out psycho eyes and realized these were Born Heavies.
THE DOORMAN is borderline watchable. VANQUISH, like Rose’s cancelled Bat Girl TV Show is something I couldn’t bring myself to finish.