Vice (movie review)
The best genre fiction has something to say about the world around us and our place in it. Ideas about foreign policy, xenophobia or disease can be difficult and unpleasant concepts to tackle, but if wrapped in a narrative about aliens, robots or zombies, the social medicine goes down a bit easier.
Vice, starring Bruce Willis, Ambyr Childers, Thomas Jane, and directed by Brian A. Miller, attempts to harness a topical discussion reflecting violence in our entertainment culture, and it succeeds…for a while.
Vice, a resort designed and built by wealthy businessman Julian Michaels (Brice Willis), is a city of robots who offer clients their deepest and darkest fantasies. You want to rob a bank, have anonymous sex, or commit murder? It’s all legal inside the city limits of Vice. However, some questions have been raised concerning the resort. Will this simulated bad behavior spill into regular society? Detective Roy Todeski (Thomas Jane) seems to think so, as he recently dealt with a man who had spent time committing murder at the resort, and decided to try it in the outside world. This concept would be enough to carry a film, and watching Michaels and Todeski fight over the morality of such a place is strong, social science fiction. But the formula gets diluted when we are also introduced to a bartender, Kelly (Ambyr Childers), who is revealed to be a robot working at the resort.
After getting murdered by a drunken client, Kelly is taken back to the Vice labs and rebooted. We are told that all of the robots in Vice experience a 24 hour memory. When they go to sleep, they forget everything from the previous day and begin their cycle anew. Unfortunately, as Kelly is getting rebooted, she begins to experience every horrible thing that has ever happened to her, including her own murder. Terrified, she goes on the run trying to make sense of the startling realization that her life is a lie. Meanwhile, Detective Roy Todeski is looking for any excuse to take down Michaels and his resort after tracking a murderer to one of Vice’s robotic sex clubs. He soon gets the opportunity he needs while following a trail of crime scenes that directly correspond to Kelly’s escape. Unfortunately, as we bounce between these three plot lines, this is where the story starts to fall apart.
Kelly is our main character, and she is also the weakest part of the film. Ambyr Childers’ performance doesn’t do much to elevate the character. It could be miscasting, Childers was great in the understated although imperfect horror film We Are What We Are. Although, I’m inclined to think that the horrible writing of her character is the culprit. Kelly exists as some sort of fantasy love doll onto which drunken clients can project their desires, which makes the weak character moments in the beginning make sense once we realize she’s a robot. Unfortunately, the character’s naivety comes off as a bad performance once she goes on the run, and you find yourself gritting your teeth through all of her scenes, hoping you can get back to Thomas Jane being a greasy badass.
The most offending scenes for Kelly come when she discovers the source of her recurring dreams. Upon escaping the confines of Vice, which doesn’t seem to have any walls and just blends into the city surrounding it, she finds the cathedral she constantly dreams about. This scene reminded me a bit of the Sebastian meets Pris scene from Blade Runner, but soon devolves into an exposition dump. Unfortunately, this forced backstory doesn’t do anything to give Kelly depth, or make us care about her relationship with a character.
Bruce Willis appears to be sleepwalking through is his performance, although there’s really not much for him to do but look menacing and order poor Johnathon Schaech around. Schaech is actually one of the standouts of the film, and is a pleasure to watch during his one big monologue where he seems to be channeling Marlon Brando.
There are parts of this film that really work for me. I would watch a ten film series of Jane’s Detective Todeski solving future crime. He dresses like a greasy 1970s cop, he’s constantly chewing on a matchstick because he’s quit smoking, and in perhaps the best scene of the entire film, Todeski’s superior takes him to task saying, “You’re a good cop, Roy. But you’re one step away from losing your badge.” To which Todeski replies, “Oh look it’s right here. Any time you want it, Cap. Come and get it.” It’s character moments like this that make Roy Todeski the best character in the entire film and Thomas Jane plays him perfectly. However, Vice isn’t about Detective Todeski, it’s about Kelly and her realization of identity, which happens to be the weakest and most juvenile part of the entire film.
There are things in this film to like, unfortunately none of them add up to an exciting, thoughtful or cohesive whole. Vice begins strongly as socially relevant science fiction, but it ultimately loses its way, meandering through exposition and a weak love story toward a rushed ending that isn’t as revelatory as it should be.
Rating: 1.5/5 Atoms