Such a wasted opportunity.
You’ve got a chance to make a sharp little B-movie variation on “Westworld” with more than a touch of “Blade Runner,” with Bruce Willis most notable among a pretty solid cast, and you turn in a loud, dopey chase film filled with substandard shootouts?
Why even bother.
Willis, who was once the biggest action movie star in the world, gives one of the most uninspired performances of his career as Julian Michaels, the wealthy owner-operator of a resort called “Vice.”
As Julian explains in a promotional video that looks like it was made by the “Total Recall” advertising team, Vice gives one the opportunity to live out every base fantasy, every evil urge, every forbidden temptation, with no consequences.
You want to rob a bank? Force yourself on a woman? Commit murder? Have at it! Anything goes.
Here’s how. Vice is inhabited by “artificials,” i.e., robots that look, feel and sound just like human beings and don’t realize they’re androids. No matter what atrocities these poor creatures endure at the hands of human beings acting out sicko fantasies, the androids are programmed so they won’t remember anything the next day.
They’re basically living a torturous version of “Groundhog Day,” without even knowing it.
As Julian strolls about the premises, reciting lines about how he’s performing a great service and giving the people what they want and supporting the local economy with his wildly successful theme park from hell, Thomas Jane’s Roy, a rogue cop with a Spinal Tap haircut and an ever-present toothpick in his mouth because he’s trying to quit smoking, ignores his captain’s orders and investigates a mysterious “explosion” that took Vice off the grid for a few hours.
(Roy’s supervisor — played by the reliable character actor Don Harvey — actually says to Roy at one point, “You’re a good cop, but you’re this close to losing that badge!” How did Harvey and Jane get through that scene without cracking up?)
Ambyr Childers is Kelly, a fetching young artificial who starts to “remember” incidents that should have been wiped clean. It’s like when you delete a voicemail, but your phone has a listing for “Deleted Voicemails.” You don’t want that; you want your voicemails to go away!
Once Kelly comes to the realization she’s not a real person — even though she seems to have the full range of emotions, or at least as full a range as Ms. Childers’ acting will allow — she escapes Vice and hits the streets of the real world, which in this case is a CGI-enhanced Mobile, Alabama, and apparently the $15 million budget for the film didn’t allow for many extras, because there’s a kind of “Walking Dead” abandoned-streets feel to that outside world.
With a score straight out of a reality competition show assaulting our ears, director Brian A. Miller amps up the action and essentially gives up on making much sense of the whole android-becoming-more-and-more-human thing. (Not that we don’t get deadly dull exposition scenes. It’s just that they’re … deadly dull.)
There are a number of shootouts featuring henchmen with unbelievably bad aim, and a ridiculous reveal involving a scientist (Bryan Greenberg) who lives in a church and has a slew of clues conveniently pinned on the walls of his lair, the better for cops and others to find.
Director Miller helmed the 2014 crime thriller “The Prince,” which starred Willis, John Cusack, 50 Cent and a number of familiar supporting players. It was filmed in Mobile and was released theatrically and on demand simultaneously.
Now comes “Vice,” also starring Willis, also filmed in Mobile, also hitting theaters and your VOD button on the same day. Even the poster art is similar.
As are the chances the movie will come and go in about the same amount of time it took Bruce Willis to cash the paycheck.
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Brian A. Miller and written by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated R (for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity). Opens Friday at AMC South Barrington 30 and on demand.