The worst kind of movie is the kind of movie that cockily professes to be telling you something you already didn't know, yet proceeds to spend a couple hours of your time body slamming you with familiar ideas, images, stories, and characters.
Vice, which is unfathomably garning Academy Award buzz on top of its incomprehensible six Golden Globe nominations, is exactly that type of film. Filled with the wrath and rage of a filmmaker whom you can practically envision in all his spastic glory, Vice purports to be telling us the untold secrets surrounding the enigmatic veep Dick Cheney, whose seemingly quiet rise to the #2 most powerful role in the country, and some would say he was actually #1, yet spends over two hours rehashing every already known detail in painstaking fashion and with equally painful condescension and a style so completely reminiscent of the vastly superior The Big Short that you can't help but feel like McKay has pulled off an elaborate copy and paste job.
If you thought that last sentence was one hilariously awful run-on sentence, then you'll at least get a sense for what it's like to sit through nearly 2 1/2 hours of Vice, a mishmash of wannabe memes and tabloid fodder presented in a shake your first kinda rage that starts off kind of funny and clever but dissolves into exasperating and tiresome by film's end.
If you've watched The Big Short, for which McKay shared an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with Charles Randolph, then you should already be pretty clear which way McKay's political pendulum swings. If you happen to stumble your way into the movie theater to watch Vice expecting anything resembling balance, you're going to be severely disappointed.
To be fair, of course, no filmmaker has an obligation toward telling a balanced story. To expect such a thing here is unreasonable at best. The problem with Vice isn't necessarily its point of view, but how its point of view is presented.
Filmmaking that seemed intelligent, innovative, and creative in The Big Short now serves notice that McKay dances fairly close to the line of being a one-note filmmaker whose film, at least here, is getting by on the strength of its all-star cast that is obviously more committed to the material than the material is committed to the cast.
Much has been made about Christian Bale's mesmerizing transformation into Cheney, a transformation that is, indeed, incredibly mesmerizing visually and practically a master class in method acting in Bale's ability to capture Cheney's understated, quiet presence that never really changes over the course of the five decades of life that Bale portrays.
I couldn't help but wish he'd tackled Cheney's infancy.
Amy Adams, portraying Cheney's wife Lynne, isn't much more interesting here. Easily one of the most gifted actresses working today, Adam makes what she can of the material but what gets made isn't particularly interesting and far too often borders on southern-tinged cartoonishness. The supporting players fare a little bit better, or at least they're a bit more interesting, especially Steve Carell's joyfully twisted turn as Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell's man-child interpretation of George W. Bush, whose clearly pegged here as way out of his element from the moment Cheney gets invited to be on the presidential ticket.
Tyler Perry serves up a pretty amazing transformation himself as Colin Powell, while Bill Camp's Gerald R. Ford and John Hillner's George H.W. Bush also deserve mention.
Narrator Jesse Plemons serves up McKay's Mr. Obvious points of call such as "Beware the quiet man," a theme that will come back to haunt the big screen time and time again.
There's little denying that there's a decent film, maybe even an incredibly good one, trying to make its way out of Vice, though McKay repeatedly gets betrayed by his comic tendencies and his inability to control the seething rage with which he's constructed the film. What worked in The Big Short simply doesn't work here or, even worse, comes off as nothing more than a gimmick.
Vice says an awful lot, but too much of it comes off as soundbyte journalism without depth or meaning or actual substance. I mean, sure, there's lots of room to just plain make fun of Cheney but is that really how you want to handle the guy that you're basically blaming for orchestrating the takedown of the free world?
It's a rather infantile approach to a very adult issue.
Vice starts off rather interestingly, Cheney an alcohol-fueled Yale flunkie with a growing list of DUIs and a wife growing increasingly intolerant of the failed potential of the husband she believed would take her places. An ultimatum later, or so it seems, and Cheney begins his slow climb up the political ladder with more than a little bit of assistance of that same upwardly mobile wife. Vice places the concept of Unified Executive Theory squarely on his lap, not without cause, and makes it clear, again not without cause, that much of the blame for one of the worst strategic political maneuvers in U.S. history, the destabilization of the mideast, also belongs to Cheney.
The examples go on and on. Unfortunately, Vice also goes on and on but never really says that much along the way. There's also a rather poor examination of the political world before Bush/Cheney, issues such as the first Gulf War that deserve much closer examination if McKay is going to make the assertions that he's making here.
Liberties are taken, both earned and unearned, but in the end Vice simply doesn't ever move beyond its own noise into the realm of making a reasoned, convincing or worthy argument. It makes you wonder exactly who Vice is made for? There isn't a conservative in the world, Cheney fan or not, who's going to buy into the propaganda-tinged malarkey presented here, while most liberals would already fancy themselves as anti-Cheney and they won't be learning anything new here. Those who are reasonably informed on both sides of the coin might have a lot of fun picking the film apart scene-by-scene.
A good, but I'd dare say not quite award-worthy turn by Bale, and a solid, though certainly not award-worthy turn by Adams, simply doesn't add up to McKay striking gold again and there's simply no question that Vice, despite the critical acclaim, is one of 2018's most overrated and massively over-awarded films.
I mean, we're living through Donald Trump now. Do we really need a feature film to take us back through Cheney?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic