Thursday, June 15, 2017

What's On Netflix?: VICE (2015)

Welcome to another installment of WHAT'S ON NETFLIX?, where we pick a series or film currently playing on Netflix and review it for the fans. This week's selection the futuristic scifi movie, VICE.

Vice is a movie that was recently added to the Netflix line up and caught my interest for two reasons. One, it stars Thomas Jane and Bruce Willis. Two, it has a premise similar to that of Westworld.  Bruce Willis plays Julian Michaels, a billionaire who has created a self-contained resort called ‘VICE’ where men and woman can come to live out their wildest fantasies, commit any crime they want as long as it is only with or against the ‘artificials’ who have been designed to be as humanlike as possible. Just like the ones in Westworld, these ‘artificials’ are reprogramed when they ‘die’ a violent death or are badly abused by a guest at the resort so they don’t ‘remember’ the event.

One such ‘artificial’ is the beautiful, naïve Kelly (Ambyr Childers) who believes she is a bartender working her last night at the resort before heading out into the world for an adventurous life. Each night she is attacked by a guest whose fantasy is to strangle women to death. She ‘lives’ this storyline as she has ‘lived’ others before it.  As Kelly, she also occasionally serves drinks to handsome guest named Evan (Bryan Greenburg) whom she feels a connection to.

In Vice, Thomas Jane plays homicide detective Roy Tudeski who has an intense dislike for the resort and the things that go on in it. His belief is that instead of people coming to the VICE resort and committing any crime they could think of and getting it out of their system, they are instead, getting a taste of what it’s like and can’t get enough. They start bringing it out into the real world and killing real victims. Roy is looking for any way he can to shut the resort down for good.

Julian is doing anything to keep it open, including sending his ruthless head of security (Johnathon Schaech) to hunt down Kelly who has gone rogue and escaped after realizing she is an ‘artificial’ and not a real human. Julian wants Kelly brought back and reprogrammed by his tech genius Reiner (Colin Egglesfield) before she can cross paths with Roy and give him a probable cause to have the resort investigated. What Julian doesn’t anticipate is that ‘Kelly’ will meet up with Evan on the outside and find out how uniquely they are connected to each other.

VICE, written by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore and under the direction of Brian A. Miller, is not as complicated as Westworld in regard to characters and storylines. VICE instead chooses to focus on only one of the ‘artificials’ in the story and has the other characters and events revolve around Kelly.  This works in the movie’s favor. It keeps the action moving and focus driven instead of jumping around from the plight of one ‘artificial’ to another. It gives the audience a chance to ‘get to know’ Kelly and to connect to her personal drama as things unfold and secrets are revealed both to her and the audience.

I’ve read a lot of negative criticism of VICE in reviews on IMDB and I have to say I disagree with them, especially where Bruce Willis is concerned. Yes, he is only in VICE for less scenes than anyone else. However, each scene he is in and the way he plays them gives a subtle ‘tell’ to the audience that Julian Michaels might not be all he appears to be. Willis imbues his character with a chilling sense of being distant from emotional concerns other than the drive to protect the resort by all means.

I’ll admit that Thomas Jane’s character in VICE is on the stereotypical side; the lone wolf detective who does things his own way and breaks the rules when he thinks it will get the job done. And yes, he does look a whole lot on the grungy side, though I like the long hair on him.  In my opinion, this is meant to be a too obvious metaphor of the difference between Roy’s real world and Julian’s make believe world of the resort. Which, of course is a standard and overused cliché, but it finds fresh ground in VICE because Thomas Jane brings a cocky presence to his character, making him stand out.

Johnathon Schaech and Colin Eggleston both bring strength to their characters as well giving VICE a biting edge to it that keeps the movie interesting. Ambyr Childers is perfect in her role as Kelly the ‘artificial’. She convincingly goes from being the naïve girl to the battle-ready woman who is determined to see that the other ‘artificials’ have a chance to break free from their programming.

VICE isn’t as big budget or as tech laden as Westworld, but it adeptly takes on the same theme and yet manages to make it a slightly different story. If you like movies in the vein of Westworld, then VICE should entertain you like it did me.

Marla’s Score: 5/10

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