Monday, January 12, 2015

Vice: It’s a Nice Place to Visit, but You Wouldn’t Want to Live There

Evidently, Michael Crichton gave humanity too much credit in Westworld. Instead of using cutting edge android technology to facilitate adventures in the Old West and ancient Rome, Julian Michaels has built a Vegas-style resort, where rich pervs can commit sex crimes with impunity. However, when one android-resident escapes into the real world, her programmers will pull out all the stops to recapture her in Brian A. Miller’s Vice (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Like Kenny on South Park, pretty much every night Kelly and her friend Melissa are killed by a guest. There memories are wiped and their bodies are repaired, so they can be reactivated a few days later. This time, Michaels expedites the process, to cater to a big hedge fund party. Seriously, someone at his level should not be micromanaging this sort of day-to-day business. Regardless, they put a rush on Kelly’s maintenance, leaving behind memories that understandably alarm her. Not inclined to go back for more such treatment, she escapes from the resort-compound.

Naturally, Michaels wants her back ASAP, but he does not want the cops involved, particularly not his nemesis, Roy Tedeschi. The world weary detective blames Vice for stirring up bad impulses that then spill over onto his streets. Despite the risk to his career, he has made it his business to antagonize Michaels. He and Kelly really ought to get together, as you know they must eventually.

There is an awful lot of stupid decisions and unnecessary villainy coming from Michaels and his associates. Pedantically speaking, there really ought to be multiply-redundant safeguards in place to avoid a situation like this—embarrassing, but probably not illegal. Needless to say, Vice is a pale shadow compared to Crichton’s Westworld and it suffers from the lack of a heavy comparable to Yul Brynner’s gunslinger. Still, it delivers a reasonable mix of trashy entertainment through its credible near future world-building and voyeurism dressed up as moral righteousness.

As a mid-January release, it is probably safe to say Vice is not destined to be a major awards player, but at least none of the primary cast-members embarrass themselves. Ambyr Childers is not half bad portraying Kelly’s slow process of self-assertion. Likewise, Thomas Jane is sufficiently hardnosed as Tedeschi and Bruce Willis chews on a fair amount of scenery as Michaels. Charlotte Kirk also makes the most of her limited screen time as the perennially ill-fated Melissa. Frankly, both Childers and Jane easily exceed expectations. It is just too bad Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore’s script is so derivative and uninspired.

Indeed, Vice is the sort of film you want to rewrite as you watch it. The whole concept of the Vice resort ought to be a launching pad for some clever social commentary, but like its creepy clientele, it just brings out the worst in its screenwriters. Still, everyone whose face is on the poster gives it a fair try. It is diverting enough if you enjoy B-movies, but anyone primarily intrigued by the premise should catch up with the Crichton film instead. For those looking for some slightly lurid, light-on-the-technical-stuff science fiction, Vice opens this Friday (1/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village.