Now that we know the world is ending, how should we respond when considering our future? Should we laugh? Should we cry? Should we struggle on in meaningless defiance, or rage futilely against our world's mortality? And how should we respond when considering our past? We got here somehow, some unholy way, after all, so what then - laugh, cry, deny? What would our response say about us? For Adam McKay, the answer is simple, for the consequences are few: he laughs, for I suppose the absurdity of it all must seem comical to someone largely unaffected by it. He approaches America's shameful recent political history with the sharp knife of satire, blunt end extended, because these figures are truly worthy of the cruellest, nastiest satirizations conceivable. Yet he lacks the skill and lacks the insight to condemn the architects of America's current, crumbling predicament, and so stops short of such satirization - Vice is a smug, casual little jaunt through the political career of Dick Cheney, disapproving when it should be devastating, and overall disappointing.
Working from such a perspective, there was little McKay could do to redeem this doomed picture, informed as it is by the experience of a wealthy, successful, heterosexual white American cisgender male, whose awareness of the catastrophic nature of Cheney's work and that of his associates in power can only ever be indirect at most. Nevertheless, if one could at least hope to laugh in spite of the horrors on display, or in anything less than their immediate presence, Vice could only let one down. It's sporadically amusing, and to varying degrees; McKay knows comedy filmmaking too well to bungle his jokes, so it's not the delivery that's off but the concepts themselves. Much of what's being satirized in Vice isn't necessarily worth satirizing, but simply worth stating and explaining, and permitting its innate absurdities to arise organically. And if simplicity ought to be central to the movie's approach, it at least ought to be moderated - the difference between 'simple' and 'simplistic' is unfortunately forgotten here, and too many scenes feel like bullet points checked off a list of essential moments in Cheney's career, too many lines like Cliff's Notes contractions of complex situations.
The general timbre of Vice is of potential squandered, though remarkably little of the movie feels as disposable as it often is toward that very potential, which remains apparent throughout. None of the central performances reach the level of sublimity to which they aspire, lingering instead around the level of acceptable impersonations, yet there's discernible talent in each; several design elements are top notch, including subtle, appropriate costuming and a towering score; the comedy, as aforementioned, may only be effective at intervals, but it is at least effective at all, which is more than can be said for so many comedy pictures. Accrued, all of this still fails to redress the damage done by Adam McKay's conceptual misjudgements, which is why I can't recommend Vice to anyone seeking to watch either an informative historical work or an enjoyable comedic one. The world is ending - maybe spend your last few hours doing something else
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