Bad doesn’t have to mean boring. Case in point: Vice, a bargain-bin high-concept sci-fi thriller full of Joel Schumacher-esque canted Steadicam moves, leaden expository dialogue, and cheap fluorescents-glued-to-the-wall sets. Shot in futuristic Mobile, Alabama on what one can only presume was a very tight budget, Vice is crummy and artless in a way that’s intrinsically watchable—the kind of movie that’s probably best viewed on a worn-out rental VHS tape or late-night hotel cable.
Part loose-cannon cop movie, part derivative reality-bender, the film is set in and around the titled high-tech resort, where guests come to abuse a population of androids, alternately referred to “residents” or “artificials,” who’ve been programmed to believe that they’re real people, living in a perpetual loop. After a reset error leaves one resident—Kelly (Ambyr Childers), programmed to believe that she’s a bartender on her last day on the job—with memories of her most recent violent demise, she escapes into the world outside the resort, a dilapidated city that depends on Vice for employment and income, but has been all but burned down by the violent, sadistic clientele it attracts.
It’s a neat premise—a commentary on open-world gaming and the economics of third-world resorts—given the fast-and-cheap treatment, without as much as a hint of satire. Vice’s guests busy themselves with strangling random passersby and hanging out in fetish clubs while un-danceable electronica bleep-bloops in the background, all under the watchful eye of shady resort head honcho Julian Michaels (professional rent-a-star Bruce Willis) and his room full of office equipment. Of course, Kelly’s escape throws the whole operation out of balance, and attracts the attention of the already suspicious Roy (Thomas Jane), the sort of beat cop who’s always on the verge of losing his badge. He wears his hair long and says, “Welcome to the real world!” before sticking a match into his mouth, toothpick-style.
As in last year’s Drive Hard, Jane appears to be channeling post-brain-injury Gary Busey, giving the kind of squinty, offbeat performance that often suggests someone trying to improvise around a flubbed line. (“We used to be cops. I’m a garbage collector. I used to be a cop. I’m not a cop anymore. I’m a fuckin’ garbage collector.”) It’s not anyone’s definition of great acting, but hot damn if isn’t a lot of fun to watch, every tic, mannerism, and awkward pause made memorable by the fact that it bears only a passing resemblance to recognizable human behavior. After a while, a viewer starts to expect Vice to reveal that Jane’s character is a robot, too.