“It’s like Westworld meets Blade Runner mixed with Species, kinda!” is probably how the pitch for the ramshackle new sci-fi flick Vice went — and it’s probably how the producers hope it comes off on the screen. It’s not that the movie doesn’t have its fair share of ideas (even if most of them are borrowed from several very well-known films), but that very few of them come across as particularly fresh, novel, or consistently compelling. Vice feels like it started out as an idea for a TV pilot and somehow turned into a pretty generic movie that, despite its myriad shortcomings, is not entirely unwatchable.
The plot makes the movie sound more exciting than it actually is: a swanky resort known as “Vice” allows its clientele to live out any fantasy they want: criminal, sexual, you name it. Vice is populated by very human-looking robots, you see, which means a guy can pay to beat up an android prostitute, if that’s the sort of thing he enjoys. The facility is run by a plainly nefarious (and seemingly bored) Bruce Willis, and the cop determined to bring the whole place down is Thomas Jane in full-bore Nicolas Cage mode.
But as soon as Vice lays down its “creepy, sexy version of Westworld” premise, one of the android “entertainers” named Kelly (Ambyr Childers) becomes (partially) self-aware, freaks the hell out, and makes a hasty escape from the Vice resort. And that’s sort of when the movie becomes a generally predictable procedural in which the bad guys fail to capture Kelly while the authorities fail to keep up with anything the bad guys are doing. The bulk of the movie is tossed onto Ms. Childers’ shoulders as she runs from bullets while trying to piece together a fractured memory bank. Not much of this stuff is all that scintillating.
As a sci-fi film, Vice is beholden to way too many influences to make much of its own mark; as a suspense thriller, it doesn’t really exhibit all that much energy; and as an action movie, it’s pretty much just a bunch of standard shootouts in which machine guns go off and stuntmen fall down. As a plain old movie, it’s saddled with way too many clunky exposition scenes, overripe line deliveries, and a few oddly ugly and misogynistic moments… and yet, taken as that “failed TV pilot” concept, one may still find a few traces of dumb fun scattered here and there.
The score (by Hybrid), for example, is pretty jaunty even when the movie is not. Science fiction aficionados can have fun playing “spot the borrowed concept” game (which extends well beyond the three movies I mentioned earlier) and general movie geeks may appreciate the contributions from Johnathon Schaech (as the evil sidekick) and Don Harvey (as the outraged police captain), but unfortunately there’s not a whole lot in the “silver lining” department where Vice is concerned.
If you’re tuning in for Bruce Willis, I’d say pass. If you’re bored and feel like watching an homage (aka ripoff) of (at least) a half-dozen good sci-fi films, I’d say maybe. If you’ve always wanted to see Thomas Jane play the late-’90s version of Nicolas Cage, I’d say rent it immediately.
2 out of 5 reheated burritos