Bruce Willis has aged into a fit, bald menace, a character actor best-suited to chewy supporting parts in ensemble action pictures. “Has been?” Maybe. He should be looking at cable TV scripts.
Thomas Jane, on the other hand, is a never-was, or never-quite was. The Punisher was something of a high water mark for the grizzled Jane, an actor forever-topped by a long, greasy mop of hair, a player doomed to play an endless procession of unshaven cops.
But he is every bit as good as Willis when it comes to delivering a one-liner with panache. Check out Roy, his cop trying to track down an escaped “artificial,” a flesh-and-blood clone/robot used as fodder for sex and violence fantasies at the pricey new resort Vice, which Julian Michaels (Willis) runs.
“You wanna make it to bed tonight, do what I ask,” Jane, as Roy, growls.
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“I know, I know, you’re in love with a robot,” he snarls at another guy with feelings for an automaton.
And as that robot, a perky blond bartender, Kelly (Ambyr Childers, nothing special), who is often raped, beaten and killed on “your last night here” as part of clients’ sick fantasies, finds the guy who designed her, Roy, has a zinger all loaded up and ready to go.
“It’s not every day one gets to meet his maker!”
Vice is a low-budget thriller that borrows heavily from Blade Runner and Westworld, and serves as an answer to the question “How much sci-fi can you get when you shoot your $10 million film in Mobile, Ala.?” The answer is, “Quite a lot” — with modernist buildings, striking control room sets and the city’s docks serving as a backdrop.
But Vice is a silly B movie, one with a villainous businessman (Willis) whose henchman (Jonathan Schaech) quotes Maya Angelou to his quarry (Kelly) after she starts having flashbacks to all the times she’s been raped or killed and flees the world of Vice. Henchman figures I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is apt, considering the artificial blonde’s lifespan and life circumstances. And maybe she’ll be touched and surrender to this guy who “gets” her.
Vice is “a place where there are no laws, no rules and no consequences,” Julian says in its TV ads. But that unfettered giving in to one’s basest desires tends to spill over into the real city, which is sort this script’s commentary on video game, TV show and movie violence. Only it isn’t. It is, however, why Roy hates the place. His boss refuses to let him go into Vice to chase criminals. So naturally, that’s what Roy does, guns and one-liners blazing.
It’s all rather malnourished, but not nearly as sad as one might expect. Jane turns up in films at this level all the time, and always gives fair value. Willis is just now getting used to the Vice budget era in his work. And if he doesn’t give us more than he figures he was paid for, at least he’s adept at hiding any embarrassment at the low rent district his career has parked in.
Director: Brian A. Miller
Cast: Thomas Jane, Bruce Willis, Ambyr Childers, Jonathan Schaech
Rated: Unrated (violence, nudity, strong language)
Running time: 96 min.