Words and talking
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Reviews

Between 2005-2016 I wrote more than 2,000 reviews for the Chicago Tribune's RedEye. Here's a good place to start.

Absolutely stunned by the crappiness of 'Vice'

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All “what” and no “how” or “why,” “Vice” is the most disappointing movie in I don’t know how long. Man, I cannot believe how bad it is.

It suggests that writer-director Adam McKay, whose brilliance turned the confusing, potentially dry 2008 financial crisis into the fantastic, involving “The Big Short,” somehow thought not “I have new perspective to add about how former Vice President Dick Cheney became the person he is and how the American political system put him in power” but rather “I wonder if anyone feels like this guy’s a shady jerk or that the Iraq war was done in bad faith.” This movie isn’t just Captain Obvious; it does nothing to probe and portrays scenes as so dastardly that it unintentionally makes you feel like these awful people can’t be so awful.

In other words: Pretty much a failure on every level.

Though he quite looks the part with added weight and makeup, Christian Bale’s voice is such that if anyone can get through “Vice” without thinking of Batman, that makes one of us. More importantly, though, as Cheney secures a revolving door of high-profile jobs, from being the youngest-ever Chief of Staff under President Ford to the CEO of Halliburton and eventually VP for George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), there is almost no sense of what drives him, how he gets where he is or why he does what he does. Sure, before any of that happens his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) tells him to straighten up or get out, considering the guy’s two DUIs and flunking out of Yale. But then all of a sudden Cheney’s secured a congressional internship and buddied up with Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, not disappearing into the role at all). Huh? And besides for that one push from his wife and his clear fondness for power (as if that’s a major personality revelation), Cheney remains totally uncontextualized. Anything more about his past, his parents, what he knows, what he doesn’t know, what he wants. It’s all a blank as McKay stages clunky scenes that bluntly describe morally vapid decisions and big changes to the world.

Likewise, the future president Bush falls down drunk at a party, then years later he’s the Republican nominee for president. Obviously that jump was huge; maybe McKay would add some new commentary on why he was deemed the top person for that nomination? Nope, just a reminder that it happened, and same with the legal loopholes used to permit torture and all the other awful things done during that presidency. But as to why Cheney guides things the way he does from the shadows, or how his relationships with the right people developed and if he learned to connive along the way or was always underhanded, controlling and cold is a total nothing. And don’t get me started on the ridiculous, voiceover-heavy framing device (Jesse Plemons plays the onscreen narrator), or how obviously it accomplishes nothing to try to suggest that ambition and power have corrupted someone who may have been corrupted from the start.

The opening of "Vice" notes that Cheney's a mysterious character, and that McKay and company "tried their fucking best" to get it right. That's a pretty weak excuse for something closer to a mediocre, uninformed sketch from McKay's "SNL" days than anything resembling a biopic or socio-political inquiry.

“The Big Short” used narrative storytelling to process reality into both entertainment and education. It’s a great, useful movie. “Vice” is famous people playing dress up and forgetting to ask for a reason.

D

Matt Pais