Review: VICE, Sexism Is Only Its First Offense

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
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Review: VICE, Sexism Is Only Its First Offense

By featuring two scenes of repulsive violence against women in its early going, Vice digs itself into a deep hole.

Theoretically, it's possible that Vice, an ostensible action vehicle driven by Thomas Jane -- with Bruce Willis sitting quietly in the back seat -- will rise up from that stinking cesspool and assert itself as a bold vision about the future of mankind, a future in which men and women are treated (and respected) as equals. Or, at least, prove to be mindful of its sexist attitudes and own up to them, commenting incisively on its broad, foolish prejudices while delivering a lot of violent, visceral eye candy.

Instead, Vice remains in the muck and mire, so blind to its own limited perspective that it doesn't even realize how offensively it plays.

Now, I'm a longtime advocate for action pictures of all stripes and sizes, so I'm well-aware that I've often ignored concerns about racism, sexism, and other legitimate -isms if the action sequences dazzle my eyes and raise my heart rate. And so theoretically -- that word again! -- it's possible that if the action in Vice convinced me otherwise, I might not be sounding off about the discriminatory messages it so proudly displays.

Yet the egregious nature of those scenes appears to be the raison d'etre of Vice Industries, a company that has constructed a "paradise" where people -- read: well-to-do men -- can come and indulge their fantasies. More often than not, as depicted in the film, their fantasies are either extravagantly sexual or sick and extremely violent, allowing them to pummel and punch and shoot women dead and then walk away with no regrets because the women in "paradise" are all "artificials" -- read: robots -- whose memories are wiped clean every day.

Bruce Willis is the owner of Vice Industries, and he has paid off the authorities so he can make his own laws. He patrols his extensive property with his own well-armed guards, who murder "trespassers" -- read: civilians who get in the way -- with impunity. It's a nightmare vision, apparently inhabited entirely by Caucasians, unless I missed a random person of color. Yet it's presented by Willis as some sort of wish fulfillment "paradise," or 'just a little fun,' as he sells it on television, for his presumably wealthy clients.

vice-theatrical-poster-300.jpgI'm not familiar with the previous work of director Brian A. Miller or writers Jeremy Passmore and Andre Fabrizio, although all three have multiple credits, so it may be that Vice is an aberration. (Passmore co-wrote and co-directed Special with Michael Rapaport back in 2006, which certainly has its fans.) But there's little wit or wisdom on display here, and the dialogue often sounds flat and uninspired.

In part, that's due to the performances, which are also flat and uninspired. The actors are talented so the potential is there; Jane's character falls squarely in a wheelhouse that he's handled with charm in the past, and Willis has played heavies before with some ingenuity. But it comes across as though both showed up on the set each day, were handed scripts, did their level best to remember and deliver their lines, and then went home.

It becomes especially frustrating when contemplating Ambyr Childers in the female lead role. She was extremely effective in Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are; here she plays an "artificial" named Kelly. After suffering extreme abuse one night at Vice, her ensuing memory wipe leaves behind disturbing memories of previous abuse, and she flees into the night. Perhaps because she was directed to act like a "robot," she is stiff and mechanical -- even though "artificials" are meant to have human-like emotions -- and often looks like someone is feeding her lines from off-camera.

What went wrong? Far too many quality low-budget movies have been made to blame the results entirely on limited time and financial resources. But whatever combination of things led to this version of Vice, there is little if anything to recommend about it.

The film opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, January 16. It will also be available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.

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Ambyr ChildersBrian A MillerBruce WillisThomas Jane

Around the Internet

Honest_JewJanuary 15, 2015 4:02 PM

Look at that cast. This is going to suck major ass.

Izzy LeeJanuary 15, 2015 4:07 PM

Sounds like an updated version of Westworld... for total jerks.

Peter MartinJanuary 16, 2015 1:30 PM

Yup. To be fair, it borrows from a handful of other films too, all in a similar, boorish manner.

aleksandarWH7 .January 16, 2015 1:47 PM

Nowadays - most important and first thing that reviewer should do is comment on something related to PC, no matter if it's big deal or just a detail. To congratulate your self, what only matters.

QinlongJanuary 16, 2015 8:39 PM

I haven't seen the film, but I don't get how "scenes of repulsive violence against women" equate to sexism. The repulsive nature you mention seems on the contrary to indicate that violence against women isn't glorified at all, but shown as what it is : repulsive. Or do you mean that these scenes of violence are shown as positive ?

Juan Andrés ValenciaJanuary 17, 2015 7:53 PM

Even the most "misogynistic" films out there probably aren't. When the act of violence or sexism towards women is portrayed as something good then I can easily say it could be offensive. The fact that Peter mentioned it's portrayed as repulsive means it's not meant to be seen as something good or funny.

I have to say I'm quite appalled by this review. For a website that features tons of films of nearly every kind, topic and content I really, really don't need to know how politically correct a film is and I think most people including myself just want to know whether it's good or not.

We're here for films, not "social justice".

Martin WagnerJanuary 18, 2015 2:55 AM

So... if a scene depicting violence against women is meant to be offensive and repellent, is it fair or unfair to criticize it if it succeeds at that goal? Well, I guess as long as we don't let any of that irritating social justice into the discussion, right?

Juan Andrés ValenciaJanuary 18, 2015 4:17 AM

An artist has freedom to create whatever he/she wants. If you find it sexist is a personal opinion. The only film I can genuinely consider as misogynistic is arguably "The New York Ripper" since just about everyone, including the female characters are incredibly mean people and only them get attacked for a good chunk of the run time.

Under your same logic it was perfectly fine for Roger Ebert to fully dislike Blue Velvet because he felt that the film was way too harsh on Isabella Rosselini because her role involved some very dark content. I agreed with him many times but it is quite unfair for him to speak for her.

Martin WagnerJanuary 18, 2015 4:28 AM

Protip: Reviews are personal opinions. By definition.

If a reviewer considers content in a film to be (to use this particular example) misogynist, and, regardless of the artist's intent, thinks that this negatively impacts the quality and enjoyment of the film, then it's fair game in a review for them to make that criticism. You are under no obligation to agree with them. But to say that a reviewer hasn't done reviewing properly because they address an element of the film that you didn't think was a big deal is an invalid rebuttal. All that's going on is you disagree with them. But they're entitled to their opinion, as are you.

Ebert wasn't speaking *for* Isabella Rosselini by saying he felt her role in BV was demeaning to her. He was offering his own opinion, speaking entirely for himself, and it's a valid opinion for him to have even if you don't agree (which would be valid for you). That is how opinions work.

QinlongJanuary 19, 2015 7:17 AM

The point is : to show repulsive acts against women is not sexist in itself. There may be other elements in the film that can help validate the claims of sexism, but the scenes of repulsive violence against women are no proof at all by themselves.
I mean, are you going to call 12 years a Slave racist, because it features scenes of repulsive violence against African-american people ?

RXSpeedster .January 19, 2015 7:16 PM

#MovieGate, anyone?

Juan Andrés ValenciaJanuary 19, 2015 7:53 PM

It's not that serious. Yet...

Martin WagnerJanuary 19, 2015 10:00 PM

I wouldn't argue otherwise, but one can still be repulsed by them while understanding there may be a legitimate artistic context to them. And if a film on the whole is poor, a critic is free to say so, and critique those scenes along with the rest of it.