A Ryuhei Kitamura Joint
I don’t honestly know a whole lot about Ruby Rose.
I understand (sans research) that she broke out in the latter seasons of Orange Is The New Black, which I never got to. She had a non-speaking sign language role in John Wick 2 and definitely left an impression there. I understand her to be an openly LGBTQIA star who played Batwoman for a single season of a tv show before dramatically dropping out. And now, here she is anchoring her own action film! It’s clear from her look and roles that she’s got an edgy vibe she is going for. How does she do in the lead role here? I’d say: just fine! At no point did I feel her performance or action chops significantly detracted from the movie. In fact she mostly sells the tough soldier vibe and dispatches of her enemies pretty effectively. It’s not immediately clear how many of her own fights and stunts she did, but that’s a good thing in that stunt doubles at least aren’t used to an extensively distracting degree. When Rose needs to be more soft hearted and familial she feels slightly less effective, but never dipped into being bad. I wouldn’t say I’m totally sold on her as a leading action star but I’d also be happy to check out a few more of her performances as well.
In The Doorman Rose plays elite soldier Ali, whom we meet amidst a protection assignment gone wrong when she displays incredible courage under fire but nonetheless ends up the only survivor of her convoy. Soon she’s a civilian struggling to find work in New York City, troubled by PTSD. When her uncle throws her name into the hat as a doorman at a luxury apartment building, it seems like a great fit. But not only has the uncle set her up to (unbeknownst to her) reconnect with her estranged niece, nephew, and brother in law who live in the building, but there’s also a Die Hard style team of professional criminals prepping to pull a heist as the building is being emptied and renovated. You better believe Ali is going to kick some ass and reconnect with some family!
The Doorman had a splashy trailer and Rose as a top-billed lead of her own action film intrigued me as well, but when I saw it was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, I knew I’d have to check the film out as soon as possible. One of the most kinetic Japanese action directors of this era, Kitamura exploded onto my radar with Versus and Azumi in the early 2000s and frankly, he’s done pretty awesome work with his English language projects like The Midnight Meat Train, No One Lives, and Downrange. The Doorman humorously takes the “Die Hard In A ______” formula and… puts it right back into a building where it first began. I love the Die Hard clone subgenre and feel that it is alive and well. In fact, The Doorman is the second new Die Hard clone film I watched THIS WEEK. And it’s the superior one. (Sorry, Welcome To Sudden Death).
Kitamura always brings movement, energy, and even a kind of clarity to his action set pieces. Even with splashy camera work and tons of visual energy, you always know where you are, who is fighting, and it always looks cool. That remains the case here. In fact, when (perhaps unfairly) compared to the lifeless Welcome To Sudden Death, it becomes clear how much an assured director with an identifiable style can really make standard direct to video action fare pop a little.
There’s also a little fun to be had with Jean Reno as the heavy, spearheading this robbery to locate lost artwork hidden by a former (Nazi? Or KGB agent? I forget) adversary of his who’s developed dementia and lives in the building Ali now works in. Weirdly, this entire plotline is almost beat for beat the same as the villain’s plan in another 2020 Die Hard clone Force Of Nature! In both films there’s an ailing/elderly ex-Nazi hiding lost and priceless artwork in an apartment building that’s being robbed by an elite group of thieves. Reno traipses through proceedings somewhat above the fray; a softer, gentler Hans Gruber. There’s not much of a character there, but Reno’s presence is always welcome.
The Doorman is unrepentantly a Die Hard clone. And that comes with plusses and minuses. On the one hand, the formula is getting long in the tooth and the subgenre itself is quite crowded. This is evidenced by the lifeless Welcome To Sudden Death (itself a remake of a clone), which is far worse than The Doorman, but which released within weeks of one another. Die Hard clones are comfort food. You’re not going to get a game changer with any of them, most likely. They are, by nature, a riff on a classic formula. What’s important, then, is whether each individual clone offers enough of a clever change up or effective execution to stand out from the pack or at least be entertaining. The Doorman provides perhaps just enough fun (with Kitamura’s style) and flair (with Rose’s edgy female spin) to become a mild recommend.
The Blu-ray features one single featurette in which all the actors talk about finding the humanity of their characters and how The Doorman is really all about bonding and human connections. Which is humorous, because The Doorman provides lip service to those themes at best, and has way more fun when Kitamura is just pulling cool camera tricks and Ruby Rose beating people down. I think the movie looks pretty good but there’s not a whole lot of reason you’d likely need to own this Blu-ray unless you’re a (ahem) die hard fan of any of the talent involved.
And I’m Out.
The Doorman hits Digital/On Demand October 9th & Blu-ray & DVD October 13th, 2020 from Lionsgate.