Director: Brian A. Miller
Cast: Ambyr Childers, Thomas Jane, Bryan Greenberg, Johnathan Schaech and Bruce Willis
Plot: Kelly (Childers) is an artifical, a robot designed to act out violent fantasies in a virtual resort. One day, she becomes self-aware and attempts to bring down the system.
With these B Movie Wednesdays, we rarely get a movie of this quality. While this movie might be a straight to DVD affair, it could easily be a cinema release. The camera makes the action look sleek, the sets are authentic and there is even a pretty impressive cast heading this Sci-Fi thriller. In fact, the only B Movie element still hanging around the film is a copied and pasted story from other, better movies. Bruce Willis’s evil businessman owns a establishment where people can act out their most violent fantasies (robbery, rape, murder), free of the law, using artifical intelligent robots, who don’t realise they are part of some form of entertainment. One of them becomes self-aware and what follows is essentially a re-hashing of Robocop, Gamer and Logan’s Run, squeezed into one movie. And yes, sometimes the similarties are too strong to make Vice anything over than a piece of entertainment, but it is filmed keenly enough to avoid most of my criticisms.
Ambyr Childers makes a brilliant heroine. I have seen the actress before in a few things and I know enough about her to wish that she was given a role better suited to her talents. Ray Donovan underuses her. We Are Who We Are showcases her talents well, but the role is too submissive. Vice, if it manages to reach a wider audience, could be Childers’ most exciting role yet. Despite being surrounded by bigger action heroes, Willis and Jane, she is the one to watch, as she leaps from buildings into cars and performs some lightning stunt moves. She isn’t the most skilled robot killer we have seen in this genre. In fact, the movie’s first half is fuelled by how vulnerable she is. If the bad guys weren’t cursed with ‘nameless bad guy accuracy’ (read Stormtroopers or Bond henchmen), she would be dead meat in the first few seconds. She wakes up, surrounded by people that want to wipe her memory and throw her back into the world of violent fantasy (the movie tastefully doesn’t dwell too much on what exactly Childers was asked to do, before her memory was last wiped), and she needs to run as fast as she can to survive. Nearer the end, the movie gives up and gives her some Matrix downloadable fighting skills, just to give its climax a better kick, but up until then, she is a worthy lead for the movie. Bruce Willis is a little under-used, as the bad guy stuck behind a desk. Sadly, Willis still isn’t escaping the impression that he is coasting from paycheck to paycheck these days. That being said, there is something sinister about his soft, threatening whisper that still thrills even when we do get sub-Willis. It also helps one of the readings of Vice. As Willis rationalises his fantasy business on live TV as dumb entertainment that acts out our wildest fantasies, you can imagine him talking about Die Hard, which opens up the discussion of morals in this movie. Thomas Jane is better. He plays the cop that wants to take Willis down and could pose an accidental threat to Childers, creating this three-way chase sequence between the trio of leads. It doesn’t help that Jane plays it sleazy and loose, channelling his inner Serpico, so he could come across as the shoot-first corrupt cop character. If the movie doesn’t impress, at least you get swept up in Jane’s fun. You get the impression he knows he is in a straight-to-DVD B Movie, so he just has fun, while he is acting. That is what I want from my favourite actors.
But when a B Movie breaks out of the B Movie category, we end up reviewing it as if it was a cinema release and there things start to get a little mediocre. The movie is entertaining, but it isn’t going to be anyone’s recommendation. For one, it opens up this Sci-Fi setting, yet never discusses it. I want my Sci-Fi to question how I feel about this acting out of violent fantasies? Is Bruce Willis right about it being dumb entertainment or am I agreeing with Thomas Jane’s cop that it is just awakening dark pleasures in the clientele that they take into the real world? Again, is this movie actually talking about cinema? Yet no, Brian A. Miller simply introduces this world and uses it as a template for his action movie. No one is bothered to look beneath the surface, making Vice rather forgettable. It doesn’t help that the budget doesn’t quite stretch to the action side of things. Sure, the shoot-outs are good, but with straight-to-DVD thrillers, you often feel the lack of explosions or proper fight choreography. The showdown between Childers and Bruce Willis is lacking in that final kick. It is a shame, because I was really enjoying this movie. I just needed a little more as it hit the finishing line.
Final Verdict: Vice gets away with escaping its B Movie roots for a while, but a lack of depth doesn’t break it away from the rest of the genre.