On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the low-budget, high-concept sci-fi thriller, Vice!
Bruce Willis is Julian, the entrepreneurial genius behind a company that allows people to live out all of their fantasies in an artificial world free of consequences. But when one of his creations escapes from her Westworld-inspired prison, she will do whatever it takes to never go back–including putting Julian out of business once and for all–in Vice.
Vice, from director Brian A Miller, is about as base-level genre work as you’ll ever find.
The concept is high and campy but handicapped by a clearly limited budget. The dialog and acting–including some delightful scene-chewing from Thomas Jane–is more often than not stilted at best and robotic at worst. And it looks as if the entire budget for the movie was little more than a hope and a prayer.
That said, it should be made clear that this all feels right at home in a movie so self-aware of–and eager to play up–its campy roots.
However, if there is one true negative that faults this movie in a way its low budget, uninspired story, and hammy acting does not, it would be the wholly miscast Willis.
While Thomas Jane and company are clearly upping up the cheese factor present in the script, Bruce Willis instead takes himself far too seriously–and to the detriment of every single scene he’s in. He’s not charming. He’s not malicious. He’s simply there, phoning in a lifeless performance, and collecting a paycheck.
And it’s odd that a movie with characters who are artificial lifeforms who become self-aware–in a movie that is entertaining exclusively because it is so self-aware of its genre trappings–we get a major star like Willis who fails to realize how he personally dragged down the collective fun factor with his unaware performance. He’s more artificial than the inhabitants of Vice itself.
A movie like Vice depends upon the audience fully accepting that the movie isn’t attempting to be a stellar, gripping piece of cinema. That it’s looking to be familiar, low-budget, and, most importantly, fun.
Miller, Jane, and literally everyone else in this movie do all they can to make the material work when it probably shouldn’t. But Willis can’t be bothered to bring the charm that established him as one of Hollywood’s most iconic action stars.
Of course, this isn’t meant to imply that the movie is lacking any real shortcomings other than Willis. The story is uninspired and plays out in the least interesting way possible. And it lifts so much material from so many better movies that it could be a top contender for the USA Olympic weight-lifting team.
That said, it is still fun enough to suggest you CHILL with Vice. Just know that this isn’t staring the Bruce Willis of the 80s and 90s–the man we saw tackle terrorists, ghosts, and a giant asteroid. Instead, it’s the jaded, lazy performer who now appears to only take roles for the money rather than any attempt to entertain an audience.
Vice is a fun, light-weight bit of popcorn cinema. But every scene with Willis is a chore. And with him as the movie’s villain, his other role as a heavy weight chained to the ankle of the movie threatens to drag the whole thing down every few minutes. He doesn’t succeed entirely, thankfully. But it is something to keep in mind.