Vice Is The Least Subtle Dystopia Ever, And That's Saying Something

There's nothing subtle about Vice, an astonishingly unoriginal thriller that plays off familiar fears that violent video games will turn players into real-world trigger-happy sociopaths. The movie is now viewable on demand; some spoilers ahead.

Top-billed Bruce Willis smirks his way through what's decidedly more of a supporting role, playing Julian Michaels (not to be confused with Jillian Michaels), the sleazeball overlord of a lawless urban resort called Vice that's basically Grand Theft Auto in the flesh. For a tidy sum, one percenters can live out their grimiest fantasies of bank robbing, stripper-fucking, stripper-punching, wanton murder, etc. with zero fear of repercussions. That's because the staff of Vice, beyond Julian and his crew of high-tech wizards and heavily-armed goons, are "artificials," incredibly lifelike robots (mostly gorgeous women) who can be killed and brought back to life with ease, their memories reset like nothing happened. And though artificials are capable of emotions, they don't know they're, uh, soulless robots … so nobody gets hurt. Right?

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Wrong! Because here comes winsome, pouty-lipped Kelly (Ambyr Childers), who's about to experience an awakening from her "life" trapped within the Blade Runner-meets-Groundhog Day matrix — she wakes up every day believing she's about to work her last shift as a bartender before going off to "follow her dreams." We know this, because Kelly has visions that don't fit within her programming, and finds herself compelled to sketch a church-like building that will obviously be making an onscreen appearance in or before act three.

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While Kelly's doing some detective work on herself within the boundaries of Vice — painful stuff, since her latest "reboot" after being brutally strangled in a parking lot results in a horrifying loop of flashbacks to her many vicious deaths over the years — a human sleuth also lurks. He's a greasy-haired, world-weary cop named Roy (Thomas Jane), whose hatred of Vice springs from the fact that its patrons, hopped up on their guilt-free dirty deeds, "bring that shit out into the real world," rendering his job less law enforcement, more "garbage collector." His vendetta against the place draws the ire of his commander, who may or may not be on Michaels' payroll, and who's fond of barking threats like "I COULD HAVE YOUR BADGE," etc.

Shit gets rill when Kelly, having discovered her true/false identity, manages to escape her glossy prison, triggering an explosion that takes Vice offline long enough for her to have a somewhat lengthy off-the-grid adventure. Absolutely zero surprises await, as literally every ham-fisted moment of foreshadowing (including that church, and, hmm ... that one cute bar customer who seemed to be the Vice's only non-misogynist) is brought to the forefront. Every story beat is explained, and over-explained ("These people get a taste and they can't get enough," Roy hisses to Julian, just in case we missed that part about crime bleeding from the resort onto Roy's beat). Eventually, a shockingly human-like arm, wielding a shockingly frying pan-like object, reaches through the screen and smacks the audience square on the face.

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Ok, not really. But it might as well. Cloaked in dystopian noir (sleek buildings, shadowy nightclubs) and themes (the sinister ways technology can be used to control/desensitize humanity) we've seen elsewhere a zillion times, and acted with either wooden disinterest (Willis and Jane both give off "I'm here for the paycheck" vibes) or a vacant approximation of badassness (to see Childers delivering a far more depthed performance, check out cannibal drama We Are What We Are), Vice is hardly as lurid as its title suggests. Though it is just as unmemorably generic.

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