I made it my goal to watch and review one new movie per week, so I wouldn’t have a recurrence of the complete lack of any content I had in September and October. Of course, little did I know that my first weekend post-goal setting would be November 4 & 5, which offered up a smorgasbord of movies I could not even give less of a shit about (pack led by Jack Reacher) with a seasoning of movies I refuse to watch – let alone give any money to – on the principle of the thing. (I’m looking at yo, Dr. Strange and The Accountant.)
HBO Now came to my rescue. I have cable for internet but don’t actually have it for TV, but my household decided that each of us ponying up $5 a month was worth getting access to HBO. I wanted it for the Westworld TV show, since I watched the movie last month for my Patreon subscribers and thought it had some really interesting concepts. I’ve watched the first episode now and I’m really excited to see more. I’m going to try to find the time to write about the episodes as I go, I think.
But anyway, this week’s movie.
Vice is a super expensive resort populated by androids (in this world, called cydroids for reasons I never really figured out) who get their memories reset every 24 hours. The patrons of the resort are invited to do anything they want to the androids. And then things go haywire, when one android goes rogue.
Familiar, right? More Westworld TV show than movie, since it’s not about a theme park eating its patrons. And rather than an old west theme park, Vice is deliberately a setting that’s contemporary to the world in which it resides. The movie actually opens with two patrons doing a bank robbery – it’s pretty clearly supposed to be live action GTA, including all the violence against women. With that setting, there’s a little bit of commentary on society. The cop Roy (Thomas Jane) talks about how people practice to commit crimes in Vice and then do them in the real world, particularly violent crimes against women. And it’s explicitly stated that the resort can really do what it wants because it brings in about half the city’s tax revenue. Now there’s a societal implication that could have had some real meat on it.
But the focus instead is on the android Kelly (Ambyr Childers), who through a glitch is able to remember at least portions of her supposedly erased past, most of it involving being murdered by various guests. She escapes, and then there’s a lot of action scenes, because Vice wants its rogue android back, and Kelly, with a few others, wants to take the resort down.
When I explain the plot like that, it sounds like a decently fun movie, right? The problem is that there isn’t much to either of the main characters to care about. Roy is weirdly greasy and incredibly unappealing. I kept waiting on the reveal for his traumatic past (lost his wife, maybe?) that would tell use why he constantly looked like he’d just come off a month-long bender. It never happened. He’s a cipher, whose motivations, while explained, feel extremely thin.
Of course, he still gets better treatment in the script than Kelly. Despite the fact that her supposed gain of self awareness is the turning point of the plot, Kelly herself is functionally a football that various male characters pass around to move things forward. She gets about five seconds of apparent change from a passive to active character, development that is completely unearned by the lack of something even as simple as a goddamn montage, and entirely indicated by her slicking her hair back and dressing in black leather. Set as it is against a backdrop of constant violence against women and a camera that is remarkably male gaze-y even for an action movie, it’s even more troubling.
If Vice had spent more time on plot and character and less time on its interminable, too-dark, and thoroughly generic gunfights, it might have been a decent film. Maybe. If it had also employed someone on the creative team actually, I don’t know, talking to a female human being for five minutes so that they would realize women are more than sexy robot lamps.