There was a time when – 1973 to be precise – our fantasies involved pretending to be cowboys, gladiators and knights in shining armour. That fantasy was called Westworld and like all good sc-fi movies it was a clever idea, cleverly executed.
The premis was simple: rich visitors can live out their dreams in a resort populated by robots. They can play at being gunslingers and even take on the Bad Guy in the Black Hat knowing that at the end of the day, it’s all just a harmless game. Then, of course, things go badly wrong …
On the face of it, Vice is Westworld 2015. Only, in the 21st Century it seems that most of our fantasies involve rape, murder and sadistic violence. Mostly inflicted on women. And just to be sure that you can really get your rocks off, these ‘robots’ are more than just steel and synthetic skin. They can feel everything a human can.
In the place of Yul Brynner’s chilling gunslinger, we have Kelley (Ambyr Childers), a goodtime bar tender who gets beaten and murdered by a guy who clearly thinks that women should take it and like it like the Biaches they are.
While being reactivated-molested-tortured (take your pick, all apply) by another random abuser, Kelley becomes self-aware. Eventually escaping, she turns to disaffected cop Roy (Thomas Jane) to help her bring down the whole nasty little set up. And that’s pretty much that. Except it really isn’t all that pretty.
Sci-fi has a great tradition of engaging with the big issues. Life, death and what it means to be human. However, despite literally breaking out of her programming, Kelley never becomes a fully realized character. There are no revelatory moments and certainly no poetry on rain soaked rooftops. That’s no fault of Ms Childres who does her best while struggling with a plot that really has nothing to say. Thomas Jane has an equally thankless task, playing a cut price Deckard and delivering cheesy dialogue that leaves him looking permanently stunned. Bruce Willis is there for no other reason than to put bums on seats and add a ‘family action hero’ face to the posters. A shame as old Bruce seems to have a sneaky liking for sci-fi and did sterling work in Twelve Monkeys and Breakfast Of Champions.
If there’s anything to be taken away from Vice, a Westworld-Blade Runner wannabe, it’s that it is possible to make a film that is both depressingly unpleasant and boring.