I’ll say this about The Doorman: It’s a better Die Hard sequel than the last two films in that particular franchise. There’s a certain sense of fun and believability which both Ruby Rose and Jean Reno bring to their roles, and the action is more compelling; but when the final frame rolls, there’s no avoiding the comparison. A European ringleader brings a well-trained team to wreak havoc in a building, and only one person can stop them – that’s all you need to know about the plot.
But our hero deserves a better look and more leeway than being summarily dismissed as a John McClane understudy. The prologue gives us a sense of Ali’s (Rose) life before it gets blown to hell – she’s a Marine diplomatic guard who violently loses the family she’s protecting, along with the entire security detail. What we’re also given is that she’s rather good at what she does, and the family might have had a chance had her wariness and first glimpses of the assassins not been dismissed out of hand. It also allows us to see the trauma she endures, but not before watching her fight the attackers with precision and a quiet temerity, dosing out a small taste of what’s to follow.
This prologue defines her in so many ways – physically, emotionally, and mentally – and lends a solid foundation for the film’s main conflict. Ruby Rose carries this film easily, diving straight into Ali’s post-discharge PTSD, which wracks her body and mind. Ali’s formerly proud and upright shoulders are now hunched with the weight of her guilt and despair, even when her Uncle Pat (Philip Whitchurch) gives her a doorman job at an apartment building he’s renovating. It’s empty for Thanksgiving, so she’ll have time to get her bearings and acclimate to her second chance.
Her first day on the job and surprise! – her deceased sister’s family turns out to be living there. They’re one of two families still left in the building before the holiday before departing on their vacation. While they’re digging into Thanksgiving dinner, Victor Dubois (Reno) and a cohort of men have come to find a haul of paintings thought lost in World War II. They’re armed, well-trained, and willing to use whatever force necessary to surmount any obstacles in their way.
As Barney Stinson once said in “How I Met Your Mother”: “Do you see… where I’m going… haWITH THIS?!” There’s a bad husband involved; an innocent employee is murdered as the intruders enter the building; someone drills a safe; a suave, good-humored-until-pushed European dandy takes command; a cop goes off a roof; the first bad guy is dispatched in a room under construction; a fire alarm gets tripped; a fight scene happens on scaffolding; and some action takes place in “another basement, another elevator.” (Okay, to be fair, those last two bits are from Die Hard 2.) Enough similarities exist to the point that Steven E. de Souza, Jeb Stuart, and the estate of Roderick Thorp should name The Doorman screenwriters Lior Chefetz, Joe Swanson, and Harry Winer (Greg Williams and Matt McAllester bear story credit) in a copyright infringement lawsuit.
(The entire preceding paragraph is to be read with tongue firmly in cheek. Sorry for going full geek on you. By the way, if you didn’t know, Die Hard was based on the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the second and final book in Thorp’s Joe Leland duology, the first of which – “The Detective” – was the basis for a 1968 Frank Sinatra film. Because of this, did you know 20th Century Fox contractually had to offer Sinatra the John McClane role before Die Hard started filming? Holy crap, I need to stop. Sorry.)
Just enough spin is given to avoid it, though. The hero’s position of authority is still there, albeit changed from a police detective to a Marine; we’re made aware of Victor’s motives immediately, as opposed to a sham terrorism front; instead of a wife in danger, it’s a whole family; and the aforementioned cop going off a roof is twisted quite humorously. There are more variations upon other plot points, and you’ll see what I mean, especially in the final act. Honestly, The Doorman is chock-full of lifts from other movies drowning it in a vat of derivative, vapidly unoriginal faff, which makes you wonder why the film needed three screenwriters.
Yet the kineticism brought by director Ryûhei Kitamura, Jean Reno’s reliably grounding presence, and an all-in Ruby Rose lift this movie out of the realm of “forgettable” and into the “all right, I can get down with this” light. Rose is magnetic, striking a balance between the horrors of her old job and the frantic danger of the present. She makes Ali’s scripted path of redemption tangible through her manner and her whip-quick physicality. After playing secondary mercenaries in films like xXx: The Return of Xander Cage and John Wick: Chapter 2, she has a movie to herself and doesn’t waste a bit of it, torpid script notwithstanding.
The fights are outstanding, albeit a little overcut and shot too close; however, the stunt work and choreography more than make up for it. Make no mistake; this film is shot to thrill, Kitamura making the most of every location and set piece. From the tragic prologue to the inevitable wrap-up, The Doorman doesn’t want for action or excitement. Ali makes for a wonderful hero, and the battles she fights to protect those she loves are formidable. However, the film’s lack of originality and trite script ultimately gives The Doorman the effect of a live wire being occasionally cut, and for longer blackout periods than we’d hoped.