Sunday, January 18, 2015

Loop Of Misogyny: Vice Takes The Low Road For Important Ethical Questions.

The Good: Most of the performances, Moments of concept
The Bad: Character, Messages (both overt and metaphorical), Sacrifices too much substance for action sequences.
The Basics: Vice might not be the worst movie of the new year, but it is far too derivative and simplistic to reach its potential.

Now that Awards Season has begun, I’ve been watching a number of ceremonies and festivities surrounding major players in Hollywood patting themselves on the backs. One of the staples of Hollywood who has been noticeably absent – perhaps I’ve only noticed it because my wife has us rewatching Friends (reviewed here!) and his episode arc recently came up – is Bruce Willis. Willis has not disappeared from Hollywood, as is evidenced by the release this weekend of Vice. Vice is a film that was not nominated for any awards and is likely to be forgotten by the time next year’s Razzies come around.

Vice is one of those tough movies to absolutely hate. After all, the concept of human relationships with robots and using robots/androids for entertainment is hardly a new one. Well-respected films, like A.I. (reviewed here!) have been produced and great thinkers have written about how technology and humanity interrelate, like Isaac Asimov. Vice has a number of aspects in common with some truly great works – like asking ethical questions about how artificial intelligences might be used, especially when their free will is compromised, but their consciousnesses are not. The problem is that Vice sweeps most of its ethical and philosophical concerns to the side to focus on director Brian Miller’s lascivious shots of random leggy blonde walking by or equally-incidental topless woman. It’s that kind of movie.

Opening with a bank robbery gone bad, which is revealed to simply be an orientation commercial, the near-future is being introduced to a big new business called Vice. Vice promises to let its users live out incredible fantasies by providing a virtual environment and “artificials” (robots made up to look like humans). Despite protests for using the artificials, Vice opens and director Julian Michaels is excited when the facility is moving toward capacity. The police officer, Roy, enters Vice to apprehend a criminal who raped and murdered outside Vice. When Kelly and Melissa leave work one night, they are killed; though it is instantly revealed that they are artificials.

Despite having their memories wiped, Kelly suddenly starts remembering her rape and best friend’s murder during the next cycle of her last night at work. While the engineer tries to find the root of the problem with Kelly’s memory, he has to restore all of her memories. Amped up on adrenaline, Kelly breaks out of Vice and she goes on the run. Pursued by Julian Michaels’ assistant and tracked by Roy, Kelly finds herself rescued by Evan, a grief-stricken young man who had Kelly designed in the image of his dead girlfriend.

First off, the basic premise of Vice is inherently offensive; Kelly’s memories reveal that she has been raped and killed by all sorts of men in all manner of ways. While Roy is championing the high-minded idea that Vice only gives criminals a taste for how good the crimes they want to commit could be, the execution is based on the concept that all men are rapists. It’s offensive to men and it only continues the stereotypes that men need to keep themselves in check in order to not go around raping and killing. The fact that Kelly is presented in the film as rapebait both in and out of Vice is flat-out disgusting.

The second big problem with Vice is that it is incredibly misogynistic. Unfortunately for writers Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore and director Brian A. Miller, when you make a movie steeped in metaphor, you can’t control all of the metaphors. The androids in Vice are slaves, the exact type posited in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure Of A Man” (reviewed here!). But while questioning the ethics of creating a slave race by showing one slave on the run, one is also forced to acknowledge what is actually being shown on screen: it’s just women getting raped and murdered. While the men are the business leaders and the ethical detective looking to protect all the “real people,” a woman who has been used for the pleasure of men and rich women is shot at and chased. That’s okay, though; she’s just a woman. (Be sure to read that line with the appropriate level of sarcasm; the movie presents it without the ironic tone.)

Not at all unwatchable, Vice includes key elements from more popular and higher-budgeted films with similar themes, like the remake of Robocop (reviewed here!). Like Robocop, Vice has an overt plotline involving the power of big business. Julian Michaels is, above all, a businessman. The police chief in Vice notes that Vice pays half the city’s budget in tax revenues, so the police try to leave Vice alone. Vice never satisfactorily addresses new business issues. Big business has influence and gravitas. We get it. If we didn’t get it from life, there’s Robocop, any number of political movies and the whole slew of business drama films. Vice could have explored something different – how a business like Vice would get likeness rights and DNA from actual people comes instantly to mind – but it doesn’t.

Bryan Greenberg is good as Evan and Bruce Willis is entirely credible as Julian, though neither role is at all a stretch of the actors. Thomas Jane is decent as Roy, but he suffers because he is presented as a unclean white guy with greasy, disheveled hair almost at the same time as a rapist who looks virtually the same. In other words, Jane’s character suffers some because the casting was bad and it takes too long to differentiate and “buy” Roy in the reality of Vice. Vice is the first work I’ve seen Amber Childers in where she has been one of the top-billed actresses and the role is a tough one evaluate. Kelly is supposed to be a robot who thinks she’s human, but her performance is stiff and, for lack of a better term, robotic in too many key scenes (like when Kelly and Evan reach Evan’s engineer genius friend).

There is a fair amount of bad press surrounding Vice right now and it is doubtful it will break into the top ten for movies released this weekend, but the truth is, the problems with the film are much more with the execution and lack of originality than the idea itself. There are any number of films I watch where I ask myself, “how did this piece of crap get greenlit?!” With Vice, I can almost hear the pitch: “We want to make something like Blade Runner (reviewed here!) from the perspective of a droid” . . . but Miller and his team did not deliver anything as compelling.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Last Five Years
The Voices
Love, Rosie
The Seventh Son
Song One
Project Almanac
American Sniper
Inherent Vice
Still Alice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
The Imitation Game


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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