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Friday
Jan232015

Vice (2015)

Groundhog Date

Someone, somewhere, not only greenlit Vice--a perhaps unintentional throwback to early-nineties direct-to-VHS rentals--but infused it with enough money to bring in Bruce Willis for a few hours of shooting, and set it loose on the world. Everything about Brian A. Miller's would-be techno thriller is tired--from the innumerable chase scenes, to the bait-and-switch premise, to Wilis himself, who uses his character's cold-hearted, calculating nature as an excuse to never leave the drab Villain's Office set. He winces from beneath the skin-tight regret-mask of a hard-core slot player who's just ceded their "lucky machine" to a bathroom-break interloper.

Screenwriters Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore at least have an interesting premise going for them, birthed from smashing together three very familiar genre plots. In the not-too-distant future, an evil tech mogul named Julian (Willis) creates Vice, a luxury compound where people pay to live out their fantasies--which, of course, include raping, torturing, and killing innocents. Here's the rub: the victims look like flesh-and-blood L.A. types, but are really androids that get re-formed and re-set after each nightly round of horrors.

One of these comely bots, Kelly (Ambyr Childers), becomes self-aware and--unlike your humble reviewer--escapes Vice unscathed. She teams with the guy who programmed her (Bryan Greenberg) and, later, with a cop-on-the-edge* who wants to bring down Julian at any cost.

Little of that summary was not in the trailer, which made Vice look like Hostel-meets-Groundhog Day-meets-I, Robot. I assumed, maybe like you, that the filmmakers would step beyond the water's edge of their setup. Instead, we're deluged with the boring parts of every cheap, low-sights actioner whose posters invariably feature a blurry character running at a slight angle, holding a gun. Even the premise turns out to be as artificial as its heroine's easily wiped CPU: Miller and company explore Vice's skeevy morality for all of ten minutes, before making Kelly's predicament interchangeable with that of any other on-the-lam thriller.

I also can't countenance the film's ugliness regarding the treatment of women. No soapboxing here, just a very uneasy feeling every time a leering goon slaps around and/or verbally assaults Kelly or one of her ilk. Sure, this brutality is meant to show what kind of scum our protagonist is up against, but Miller lacks the deft step required to walk the line between motivation and exploitation. Had the rest of the film not been so bland, I might have regarded these nastier bits with less contempt. As it stands, Vice's undercurrent of misogyny serves only as an easy pulse-quickener in an otherwise somnambular journey.

Which brings me back to Willis: Does he have a tax problem I'm unaware of? Between this and the first two Expendables films (especially the second), I'm beginning to wonder if there's a reason he's taking on nothing parts with hefty paydays--beyond the fact that certain moneyed interests allow him to do so. Thomas Jane also phones in his part, but at least he gets outside--and revels in his character's nifty match-chewing habit. Willis glares, speechifies, and barks orders to a henchman (Jonathon Schaech). Even the climactic showdown between Julian and Kelly takes place in his office.

Someone, somewhere, someday, will no doubt pick up where Vice's potential left off, and turn in a film worth watching. For now, we're left with a movie that exhibits mankind's saddest, most disgusting, and detrimental trait: sloth.

*Thomas Jane, looking more like a man-out-of-time Aragorn than ever.

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