Vice takes the basic premise from 1973’s Westworld and morphs it into an incoherent slog. In a non-specified future, human cloning has been perfected by Julian Michaels (Bruce Willis), an Eldon Tyrell type who’s made his entrepreneurial fortune designing a resort where customers can fantasize, fight, and fuck (more specifically, rape) their way through a non-policed, life-like maze of “artificials.” Beat cop Roy (Thomas Jane) thinks the place is breeding criminals who are unable to decipher between fantasy and reality, so he teams up with Kelly (Ambyr Childers), a fugitive artificial, to machine-gun their way to Michaels’s office door.
The film’s true artificial is director Brian A. Miller, who envisions uninhibited rape and murder without the slightest insight or satirical eye, instead using the premise merely as an excuse to lurk inside the confines of a strip club or relish incessant sounds of gunfire. Yet these basic exploitation sins are multiplied by a script from Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore that both fails to concoct a single scene of interest or relevance to the themes at hand and treats every line of dialogue like an audience address, as if the premise were so complex that each successive moment needed to be explicitly reiterated. Vice gives Roy a rhetorical line like “Who gets to clean it up?” while being told by his superior that he’s “one step away from losing [his] badge” without even infant self-awareness. Any remote ties to actual, functional genre resonances have been bastardized and blended into archetypal puss, with Willis sleepwalking as the smirking CEO, who stands in a single board room for nearly the entire film, waxing plastic poetics while blankly staring at computer monitors, in what’s surely one of the worst roles and performances of his career.
And while Jane gives a line like “It’s not every day one gets to meet his maker” more oomph than it deserves, little of his efforts matter amid Miller’s sledge-hammer aesthetics, with action scenes featuring a deafening, blaring score by Hybrid that would make Hanz Zimmer blush. Yet even more disheartening beyond the comprehensively failed formal aims is how precious little ingenuity or even bad taste Miller displays, such that discussions of “nature vs. nurture” or “collateral damage” are engaged with straight-faced perspicuity and rendered as if the filmmakers intended them to be legitimately revelatory. Digi-punk fare like Gamer or Dredd have catalyzed the American actioner in recent years through unique visions of late-capitalist ruin, with legitimately provocative ruminations on failed genre mythologies and avatar culture. Miller prefers his film to speak its brain-numbing aims, concluding with the unintended-to-be ironic statement “Welcome to the real world,” a greeting that can only be actualized once one is eons removed from Vice’s soulless debasements.