A futuristic resort populated by robots where the guest can act out any fantasy may sound familiar to anyone who’s seen or heard of Michael Crichton’s Westworld but director Brian Miller’s Vice does so little with the premise it’s almost not worth calling this movie a rip-off.
The script has cobbled together elements from several science fiction movies as well as a collection of clichés from cop shows, making the hardest thing for viewers of this film to do to spot anything original in it. When one watches the 1973 Westworld you can’t help but wonder about the plausibility of such a park; guns can’t fire at a warm body but how does that work with swords and knives? Or how does a ricochet know not to kill a guest? How does a chair across the back of the head in a bar fight not put the guest in the hospital? Yet decades later we have this movie, which not only does not address these issues, it actually backtracks and makes the park even more dangerous for the guests.
Set in the near future, billionaire Julian Michaels (Bruce Willis) has designed the ultimate resort: VICE, a city that operates like a live action Grand Theft Auto game. You can rob banks, murder, rape, or do anything your twisted mind can think of. It’s all in fun though, as the people you are raping and killing aren’t actually people, but robots. The problem here is in the design of these robots. To make all this violence and debauchery more “fun” for the guests, the robots are almost human; their exterior flesh and much of their organs is cloned genetic material with only their brains and skeleton fully artificial, so it feels to the guests that they are torturing a living breathing person. But that isn’t even the worst of it, as these artificial people have been programmed with real emotions and lives with no knowledge that they are robots. That way when they are being raped or murdered they react as if it is real, because to them it is real.
This movie centers on a young bartender named Kelly (Ambyr Childers) who wakes up from a wonderful dream about being in a peaceful church. She is in an especially good mood today because it is her last day of work before leaving for a trip around the world. Her roommate and co-worker Melissa (Charlotte Kirk) is excited for Kelly, and they plan on a fun night together after work. That is until the creepy guy they met earlier in the day catches up to them in the parking lot, repeatedly shooting Melissa with his handgun before choking the life out of Kelly.
Of course no real crime has been committed here, because both Kelly and Melissa are artificial people. Even though they feel every moment of terror and pain of their deaths it doesn’t matter, because they will be patched up, memory wiped, and they will repeat their last day again and again and again.
Trouble starts when Julian Michaels orders a quick turnaround on Kelly and Melissa because they expect the park to be extra busy. This cutting corners decision causes this “last day” for Kelly to not go so well, as all of a sudden she gets flashes of memory of her and her friends murders and begins to seize as she is racked with the pain of her past death. A “medical team” is quickly dispatched to bring her back to the lab, where she is informed that the only way to fix this memory glitch is to force her to experience every single death she has had since inception, as that is supposedly the only way to hard wipe her memory. Kelly goes into more convulsions as she is forced to recall the full extent of the horror that has been her apparent life. Instead of getting a mind wiped robot the doctor finds himself facing off against a pissed off self-aware robot, and she doesn’t want to play anymore.
She escapes simply by running out of the room and out of the resort because all the armed security guards, some packing grenade launchers, make the Storm troopers of Star Wars movies look like crack shots. Now Kelly doesn’t have robot strength or powers of any kind, she is by all intents and purposes just a normal woman, so her escape is beyond ridiculous. What is even more ridiculous is that she isn’t in the real world for more than ten minutes before running into a rapist. The film tries to sell the idea that the people in the park who do awful things will eventually do it in the real world, but we find out almost immediately that this rapist had never visited the resort because he couldn’t afford to, which kind of blows the hell out of that premise.
Kelly isn’t the films only protagonist. We also have Detective Roy (Thomas Jane), a rogue cop who refuses to play by the rules. If his character was anymore of a two dimensional stereotype he could have been replaced by a cardboard standee. Roy is this films moral trumpeter and he rolls out all the same arguments people make against violent video games, but in the case of Vice City where people are physically performing these acts and not just hitting R3 L1 L2, he may have a point there. The real point the film should have been focusing on is what makes a person human. We get some lip service about being human and how it has to do with the ability to retain memories. So as long as the robot’s memories are wiped each day, and can’t develop new ones, they will never truly be sentient. Kelly certainly proved that wrong.
The movie becomes your standard science fiction chase movie with a very bored Bruce Willis ordering countless heavily armed thugs to track down the escaped robot, while Thomas Jane walks through the motions as the cop who will not be stopped. Any chance for philosophical debates over what constitutes humanity is jettisoned in favor of poorly choreographed action scenes that bring villainous ineptitude to a new low.
Eventually, Kelly gets a computer upgrade from a local hacker so that she and Roy can take down Julian as well as Vice City. They split up, with Kelly gunning down security guards while Roy kills a couple of guards on his own before forcing a computer tech to download a virus into the mainframe.
Kelly finally confronts Julian, who doesn’t seem concerned that there is a very pissed off robot pointing a machine gun at him, and she is even more shocked when she finds herself unable to pull the trigger. Julian informs her that, “It’s the one thing the creators didn’t think of; protecting man from machines.” That is some hardcore bullshit if we are to believe that it never occurred to the people who designed these robot that they could ever be a danger to civilians. Of course super evil genius Julian thought of this, so deep in her programming there is a safeguard that won’t allow her to kill high placed officials in the company.
Which leads to the big question, “Why in the hell would you make theme park robots capable of killing anyone?” If these robots are programmed in such a way that they don’t know they are robots, what is to stop one of them from harming or killing a “guest rapist” in self defense? In Westworld robots were programmed not to harm the guests and only when there was a major malfunction did this change, but in Vice there seems to be no safeguards in place at all. Julian would have been sued into bankruptcy long before Kelly became self-aware.
And because this film hadn’t ripped off Westworld enough, the virus that Roy uploaded gives all the robot residents of Vice all their memories back. So, like Kelly, they all experience every horrible thing done to them over the the course of the years. This causes all of the robots to go berserk and begin murdering the guests. I think Roy losing his badge is the least of his worries.
This is a bad movie and one without an original thought in its ninety minute head, and I haven’t even mentioned the robot designer who used his dead wife’s DNA to make Kelly, secretly dating/stalking her for years. It’s just embarrassing. Super Cop Roy hates this park because its corrupted influence is bleeding over into his city, but this would be the least of the controversies facing a park like this where you have artificial intelligent robots/clones that are being raped and murdered on a daily basis. You would have people protesting the creation of artificial intelligence, people protesting the cloning, and then people protesting the premise of the park. It’d be almost impossible for a facility like this to get green lit as it would be tied up in Congress for decades. That this movie did not get a proper theatrical release is no surprise, that it stars the usually dependable Bruce Willis and Thomas Jane is. Clearly these two were in complete paycheck mode during the making of this piece of crap.
HBO is making a Westworld television series created by Jonathon Nolan, so I guess we’ll just have to wait until then to see a little thought put into the idea of a theme park full of robots, its dangers, and moral implications. I think I’ll just go and watch Yul Brynner hunt down Richard Benjamin.