Ruby Rose uses a pipe to take out gun wielding goons in The Doorman (2020)
★★ out of ★★★★★
The Doorman is a throwback action movie, starring Ruby Rose as an ex-special forces soldier turned doorman battling Jean Reno and his squad of art thieves. The film gets bogged down in stale clichés and surprisingly bland action pieces. Not everything on Nightstream was awesome, or even horror.
Admission. This is NOT a horror movie. It was a feature in the Nightstream festival, which was a consolidated horror effort, but The Doorman turns out to be a straight action-piece, and isn’t really even horror adjacent. That said, Ryûhei Kitamura is a director well known for his ability to manipulate violence into a ballet of shock and surprise, and respected within the horror genre. His films Versus and Midnight Meat Train are cult classics of gory mayhem. His 2018 film Downrange, which explored the notion of a deranged sniper in the role of the serial killer, trading in the machete for a sniper rifle was elegant in concept, if clumsy in the acting department.
So, when I saw that he had a film that was going to be showcased in the Nightstream, I was optimistic. He knows how to provide a distilled concept and infuse it with gory action to make an exciting elevated grindhouse story, he just needs good actors. With charismatic cult film fan favorite Jean Reno (Leon the Professional, Ronin) as the lead villain, and promising rising star Ruby Rose (Batwoman) as the titular heroine, I thought this could be very interesting. Throw in solid genre supporting actors Aksel Hennie (The Martian)and David Sakurai (Man in the High Castle, Housewife) gave additional credence that perhaps this could be a punch action piece, full of bloody exploitation sequences.
Rose plays Ali, a special forces soldier on a diplomatic protection detail who survives an ambush of the diplomat under her protective custody in Eastern Europe. She finds herself discharged from the army, and looking for a fresh start back in New York. Her uncle scores her a job as a doorman at an apartment building that he works at, just before Thanksgiving. He tells her, it’s not as exciting as her old job, but that it will get her back in the workforce, and she happily takes the new assignment.
Her new job, however, will find her needing to fall back on her military training, as the apartment building will be shut down for supposed building improvements during the holiday break, leaving very few residents inside. This is a ruse, as Rose’s new boss, Borz (Hennie) turns out to be part of a ring of violent criminals led by Victor Dubois (Reno) who is determined to find art masterpieces that he believes are being held by one of the apartment tenants.
Also remaining in the building are Ali’s brother-in-law, Jon (Rupert Evans), and his two kids. Ali’s sister died years ago, and Jon’s children take to life in decidedly different ways. Precocious Lily (Kila Lord Cassidy) is almost manic in her affection for her dad and her Aunt Ali. Teenager Max (Julian Feder) is a sullen dope-smoking know-it all. Both of these characters nearly bog the entire movie by themselves, as they are cloyingly annoying. I don’t enjoy disparaging young actors, but the combination of poor dialogue scripting and ham-fisted emotions was difficult to stomach. The old W.C. Fields adage comes home to roost here, big time.
As the crew starts to dismantle the building in search of priceless artifacts, they discover a safe in the walls of Jon’s apartment. But Max gets away from the thieves by using hidden passages in the building, and Ali rescues him. One by one the goons are sent out to try and deal with Ali, and she goes full special forces on them. The action sequences are predictable and the plot is dull. Reno sleepwalks through the film, and in an effort to make him a sophisticated Alan Rickman-like villain, he instead comes out rather tepid and hardly intimidating. As a criminal mastermind he is outwitted by Jon and his two kids. The crew is armed to the teeth, and showed a willingness to kill to get what they want, but decide to allow this family to be witness to their plots as opposed to removing this family from the equation, which would have been the smart move.
Rose is able to show off the action chops she learned from her year doing the Batwoman TV show, but the action set pieces by in large were unmemorable. The characters for the most part have little chemistry amongst them. The family dynamic is awkward. The criminals are uncoordinated. And our lead protagonist and antagonist don’t really have much antipathy towards each other. So the entire film comes off like a big shrug.
The movie took every page out of the Die Hard playbook, but came out feeling more like one of Stephen Seagal’s lesser outings, or early bad Schwarzenegger.
[Borz] PeeWee, go find that kid.
(Wait… fight sequence)
[Ali] He’s dead! You’re Next!
You two Go get her!
If you are a fan of trashy ’80s action films like Under Siege, Hard Target, Cobra, or Raw Deal you might enjoy this as mindless fun. Lame plot. Clunky script. Fair-to-middling acting. Passable gun-fu. Zero character development. But if you enjoyed those bye-gone ‘roid rage movies of a vanished age, depth of character is the last thing you’re looking for in a movie. Unlike those old chestnuts, this movie doesn’t have any decent puns, which is a shame.
The Doorman is Rated R for action movie violence, and language.