Director – Brian A. Miller, Screenplay – Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore, Producers – Randall Emmett, George Furla & Adam Goldworm, Photography – Yaron Levy, Music – Hybrid, Special Effects Supervisor – Dave Nami, Production Design – Nate Jones. Production Company – Grindstone Entertainment Group/Emmett Furla Oasis Films/KS International.
Thomas Jane (Detective Roy Tedeski), Bruce Willis (Julian Michaels), Ambyr Childers (Kelly/Melissa Lund), Bryan Greenberg (Evan Lund), Johnathon Schaech (Chris), Charlotte Kirk (Melissa), Ryan O’Nan (Detective Matthews), Brett Granstaff (James), Don Harvey (Captain Kazansky), Colin Egglesfield (Reiner), Dr. David Gordon (Mitch), Lydia Hull (Stacey)
In the future, Julian Michaels has become one of the wealthiest men in the world with Vice, a company that uses Artificials, androids engineered from human DNA, to create an environment where paying customers can do whatever acts they like, legal or otherwise, without fear of recourse. Police detective Roy Tedeski dislikes Vice, seeing that it encourages anti-social behaviour that is spilling out onto his streets. He is censured by his captain after breaking in to Vice to conduct an arrest. Meanwhile, Kelly works as a barmaid at Vice on her last night, unaware that she is an Artificial and her memories are wiped each day. However, something goes wrong and she retains the memory of a scene where her friend was shot and she attacked. She breaks out of the Vice facility and wanders confused through the outside world before an image in her memory draws her to the abandoned church where Evan Lund lives. He explains that he created her using the DNA from his dead wife Melissa, before his research was appropriated by Michaels. As Lund seeks to flee the country to safety with Kelly, both Roy and a heavily armed detachment of Vice security come on her trail.
A few years ago, Vice would have been regarded as a major release, especially for a film headlining an A-list name like Bruce Willis and a number of other reasonably well-known actors. In the US however, it was dumped directly to dvd and received only negative reviews. Director Brian A. Miller has previously only made action films, usually about cops, with the likes of Caught in the Crossfire (2010), House of the Rising Sun (2011), The Outsider (2014), The Prince (2014) and the subsequent likes of Backtrace (2018), Reprisal (2018) and 10 Minutes Gone (2019). The interesting name on the credits was that of Jeremy Passmore who had previously co-directed the mind-bendingly wacky superhero with no powers film Special (2006), although admittedly had also turned in scripts for dogs like Red Dawn (2012) and San Andreas (2015).
The basic idea for Vice – of a leisure centre where androids can be used to fulfil a person”s desires – is stolen from directly from Westworld (1973). In fact, Vice with its idea of an android gaining awareness of its own identity and plotting an escape uncannily mirrors many of the plot elements in the subsequent tv series remake of Westworld (2016-22). Vice starts with a great hook where barmaid Ambyr Childers is leaving work with her bestie Charlotte Kirk and a guy who had crudely come onto them before suddenly reappears, pulls a gun and shoots Charlotte, before throwing Ambyr down across a car hood (presumably to rape her) as all the while bystanders look on doing nothing, before the next scene pulls back to reveal that the two girls are actually androids in a simulation.
Unfortunately, after such an attention-grabbing start, Vice quickly takes a dive down into bad movie stakes. Any interest in Ambyr”s growing intelligence as a self-aware machine and awareness of her created purpose is shunted aside. Indeed, despite the intriguing title Vice and the idea that people use the simulation to let out all their worst urges and much railing against this by Thomas Jane”s detective, we get almost nothing that shows us what people get up to inside the simulations. Very quickly Vice only becomes a film about Ambyr on the run being shot at by people with a good deal of artillery and the trail as detective Thomas Jane sets out on to find her.
In fact, Vice becomes such a stupid film that you can almost imagine that it acted as a boilerplate for the writers of tv”s Westworld to sit down and think “Well that seems utterly ridiculous, what would any sane systems designer do to prevent it from happening?” Almost as rebuttal, it would seem, they came up with logical solutions like the androids having a built-in controller that stops them from leaving the facility, as well as programming imperatives that prevent them from harming humans and logical safety mechanisms such as a password codephrase that switches them off. All of which, if implemented, would have ended Vice in about the first fifteen minutes. Although the most laugh-out-loud-in-your-seat scene is where super-hacker Brett Granstaff manages to not only erase all record of Ambyr Childers and her DNA donor but also create a fake passport for her in about two minutes flat.
The more you watch of the film, the more disappointing it becomes. It is only conceived as an action vehicle, at which Brian A. Miller delivers some routinely competent sequences. For all that he is top-billed, Bruce Willis is more of a secondary supporting character – this is a film that features the oddity of the top-billed actor playing the character that would be the villain in another film. You get the impression that Willis filmed most of his scenes in a few days on a limited number of sets.
The real star of the show is Thomas Jane, an actor who seems to perpetually adopt the persona of a burned-out middle-aged rocker in everything he does. Jane is okay in the part for what is required of him. If the rest of the show had been up to par, it might have worked around the two of them.