Vice is a muddled low effort mess.
Vice (2015) 3 out of 10: I often like low budget science fiction films. They are not afraid to take chances with the plot and to show their work. Since they cannot rely on expensive sets or special effects, they often need to have the science and the dialog carry the water for them. There are plenty of excellent examples with the recent film The Endless (2017) being a particularly good one.
I also often like low budget exploitation films. They usually take more risks than their Hollywood brethren. They are not afraid to “go there,” and they seem to realize that if a scene is getting slow, a big orange fireball or some gratuitous nudity is the perfect thing to move the plot forward. The Cheerleaders (1973) is an excellent example of an exploitation film done right.
Vice as a low budget reimagining of Westworld could have smoothly gone either route. Both the original movie and HBO’s popular Westworld series have shown that exploitation and intelligent conversation, as well as high ideals, can stand side by side to create magnificent entertainment. Vice misses both smart sci-fi and good exploitation by a country mile.
The Good: Filmed in Mobile, Alabama to give it that future dystopian sheen I have to credit the location scouts and set designers. They did an excellent job with what they had.
The Bad: Okay here we go. Let’s start with our thespians.
Thomas Jane plays a cop on the edge. He has long hair, a bad attitude, and is one more incident from losing his badge. Oh, and he walks around with an unlit match in his mouth. I am not sure if he was supposed to be Tango or Cash in this movie.
Bruce Willis ups his sleepwalking game in Vice. Long considered the purveyor of some of the least exciting show up for the check roles in the business (At least Thomas Jane is channeling his inner Nicholas Cage) Willis seems particularly out of it in this movie. He does manage an irritated look from time to time, but that may have just been the realization he was stuck in Mobile, Alabama for another week.
Ambyr Childers plays the escaped robot girl and is, in essence, the lead of the film. IMDB has her listed as an actress. I am thinking of sending in a correction. Seriously why would the producer of Vice hire an actress that has one expression and spends her entire time in an exploitation film dressed like she was going to a PTA meeting? What? Oh her husband produced the movie. Well, that explains a lot.
Well, maybe the tight script and eye-opening story will save the day. I mean there are a lot of angles here. What makes a man? The exploitation of third world locations by first world tourists. Does committing violence in video games lead to more violence in real life? (The movie gives a solid yes to the third one by the way in a groaner soliloquy given by Thomas Jane.)
The script is brainless and lacks imagination. Almost criminally so. Let us start with the brainless part. There is a scene where our escaped lady robot (Ambyr Childers) hides out in a church. She is unknowingly wearing a tracking device in the form of a bracelet. She is programmed not to see the tracking bracelet. A particular scientist at the church (which she dreamed off BTW that is how she got here) takes off the tracking bracelet with a unique tool so the bad guys cannot track her. They then spend the rest of the night at the church until the bad guys show up.
Let us break that down. Why would you make a tracking bracelet and go to all the trouble of programming the robot not to see it? It’s a robot you built. You could put the tracking device internally in the robot. Second, if you are going to remove the tracking device the next step is to have the tracking device lead your adversaries away from you (put in the back of moving vehicle, tie to a rats tail ext) or for you to move away from the tracking device. It is not to hang out in the last known location after removing said device. Removing a tracking device while on the run is a simple trope. I have never seen a film get it wrong until now.
As for the imagination part, the Westworld in this film is just a dance club, a sex club, and a fern bar. In other worlds an overpriced brothel with robot woman. That is it? Who would go to this for more than an hour or two? The movie promotes that because the robots are well robots, you can kill and rape them. I think that there is, in reality, a thankfully limited clientele for this sort of thing. Like the movie A.I., it comes down to the fact the robots are still robots. At some point, you are going to Konmari them or trade them in for a newer model. Anyway, the so-called dream vacation place looks like the kind of club you nope out of after a few drinks, sex robots or no sex robots.
The Ugly: Well a robot sex club still sounds like a reasonable basis for a fun exploitation movie right? It does, and it should be. Vice despite its name lacks well vice. There is one bit of toplessness in the entire film from a woman whose breast implants are so bad it makes me realize the futility of an artificial woman as a concept. Most of the gunfights are from the Stormtrooper school of marksmanship. The advertised debauchery barely exists and when it does it looks like a take back the night video done by the HR department.
In Conclusion: Vice is a muddled low effort mess. It fails as a science fiction film, and it fails as a sexploitation film but most of all it fails as an enjoyable film.