So…Bruce Willis. What do we make of him?
I vividly remember his rapid rise, from his first “major” role as the gloriously repellent, villainous Tony Amato in the Miami Vice episode No Exit (one hell of a performance) to his about face humorous-goodguy David Addison Jr. in Moonlighting (another great role where he shined very brightly) to his first couple of movies (Blind Date and Sunset, both of which were late era Blake Edwards works which didn’t have the charm or comedic timing of his past successes) until he hit the big time in a big way with 1988’s Die Hard.
It was at that point Bruce Willis became a bonafide superstar and would appear in a great number of films, usually as the protagonist. Like many actors who appear in many films, he’s had his ups and downs but in general audiences continued liking him for many, many years and he’s remained a very much in demand actor.
Lately, however, things appear to have changed. Mr. Willis, like all of us, has gotten older and it’s difficult for him to carry the lead action hero role like he used to. The last, and least, of the Die Hard films, for example, had him playing opposite his character’s “son”. Lately he’s appeared in a surprising number of “straight to video” features, movies that suddenly show up on your Pay-Per-View or as DVDs in your local Target and/or Walmart and just as suddenly disappear.
Which brings us to Vice…
While perhaps not the all time best trailer I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t do a bad job in getting one interested in the film it’s selling, at least in my opinion. The idea behind the film is pretty clear: We take elements of the 1973 film Westworld (written and directed by Micheal Crichton who would reuse the concept/theme for his Jurassic Park novels and the movies they were based on) and combine them with the video game Grand Theft Auto and -voila!- we have our film.
In Vice, like Westworld, we have an “adult” theme park, named “Vice”, where human clients interact with cloned/robotic beings. How much of the artificial beings is cloned flesh and blood versus metal is never adequately explained. The human clients, when in this theme park, engage in all manner of Bacchanal behavior ranging from outright violence to murder to rape to what-have-you.
Like Westworld, there is one major flaw to this concept: How do human guests distinguish between other guests and the robots/clones? They can do whatever they want to the clones, but what if they attack/assault/rape/murder a fellow guest by accident or, worse, on purpose?
Anyway, never mind all that…on with the show!
In Westworld, the robots ultimately experienced some kind of software glitch and turn on the human clients. In Vice, the clones/robots have their memories wiped each night and, if they’re killed/maimed, get fixed up and/or revived and do a version of Groundhog Day with each new day. Until, that is, robot/clone Kelly (Ambyr Childers) has memories of her previous day(s) bleed in to her present being. This freaks her out as she was the victim of considerable violence over her time as a Vice-robot. She eventually escapes the clutches of the theme park’s nefarious rulers, including Vice’s version of Walt Disney, Julian (Bruce Willis, sadly not quite as menacing as the villain here as he was in that old Miami Vice episode) and makes her way into the real world.
In the real world Kelly’s path intersects with Police Detective Roy’s (Thomas Jane playing the cliched grizzled take-no-bullshit police officer) and eventually the two plot to take down Vice.
While many lambasted the film (it has a truly dreadful 4% positive among critics -a worse rating than the latest Fantastic Four film!- and a 17% positive rating among audiences on RottenTomatoes.com), I found it wasn’t quite as bad as all that.
Mind you, I’m not saying it’s necessarily good, either.
Perhaps its something unique to me, but Vice pleasantly reminded me of the cheesy low-budget B-movie sci-fi films that seemed to come out semi-regularly during the 1980’s and disappeared sometime into the 1990’s. We’re talking about movies like Cherry 2000, Trancers and its many sequels, Split Second, Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace), etc. etc. etc.
Here, take a look…
“The only thing we know for sure is that’s he’s not a vegetarian“?!?! Come on, how can you not smile at that?!
None of these films would go on to be considered “classics” but for what they are -and depending on how critical your feelings are toward them- they could be pleasant enough time-killers with a certain amount of camp value.
Vice has plenty of flaws, from a script that needed a little more work (at one point Kelly is offered to have her system “upgraded” and she declines only to accept something like ten minutes later. The “upgrade”, based on what she does afterwards, consists mainly of getting her hair gelled), to indifferent acting (Bruce Willis is way too passive through most of his scenes), to bewildering acting (while Thomas Jane has some great lines and his character is presented as the audience’s surrogate, he looks somewhat lost in this film), I was nonetheless entertained enough to not feel like I had totally wasted my time.
Which makes recommending this film something of a head-scratcher. If you’re like me and have a certain nostalgic fondness for those low-budget B-sci-fi films of the 1980’s/90’s, you may get a little more out of Vice than your average viewer. All others best stay away.