Director: Brian A. Miller
Stars: Thomas Jane, Ambyr Childers
1 Globe (out of 5)
Good (or at least promising) ideas regularly happen to the wrong people. It happened to the makers of “Vice.” This should be a perfectly serviceable “Westworld”-y trash-fest, set as it is in a resort where patrons (mostly men) can do whatever they want to the robotic clientele (mostly women, who get violently abused). Ideas of virtual reality, how to sate humankind’s animal urges, class and feminism naturally arise from the set-up. All you need is a decent premise to get us in this world — or failing that, involving filmmaking.
“Vice” has neither, though at least it tries on the first part. Thomas Jane plays Roy, a seriously swarthy and sarcastic detective right out of a ’70s cop show. He’s a man of a bygone era, so it makes sense that he disapproves of the titular center, run by an arguably never sleepier Bruce Willis, who appears to deliver most of his lines right before Ambien kicks in. One of the joint’s robots (Ambyr Childers) suddenly and inexplicably achieves sentience, gaining an access to an entire hard drive’s worth of memories of being killed, raped and generally abused. She escapes and, eventually with Roy’s help, tries to blow this whole thing wide open.
This should be a movie about ideas; instead it’s a movie about its forgettable plot. Indifferently filmed in dark locations meant to hide future-on-the-cheap sets, “Vice” wears its influences on its sleeve, including an opening long take that brazenly, sloppily rips off the beginning of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days.” But it looks ugly and it’s the kind of film where professional actors look like not-yet-ready-for-prime-time amateurs.
It’s not shocking that a film this haphazard doesn’t properly engage with the heady ideas it raises. What is surprising is that it can actually come off as reactionary, or worse. The film’s potentially angry feminist side is fairly compromised by Roy, who ends an interrogation with a stripper by staring deep into her rack and quipping, “Thanks — both of you.” As for its portrayal of the resort itself, it takes it as a given that it would cause more societal ill than good, asserting that anyone who goes there would automatically have their inner sociopath unleashed. It’s the movie equivalent of people who rail against those damn video games.