(Directed by Adam McKay) (2018)
Take a piece of South Park, stir in a humdrum Michael Moore mockumentary and add a dash of Saturday Night Live, and Voilá! You have Vice, not the worst film of the year, but certainly the stupidest and most tendentious. Director Adam McKay, a graduate of Great Valley High School, Pennsylvania, and a university drop-out, once made a genuinely funny film – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), but he is out of his depth here, directing his own script, designed as a comedic character assassination on a popular hate-figure, Richard Cheney, Vice President of the United States under George W. Bush. ‘Vice’ is used in the sense of an “immoral or evil habit or practice.” McKay previously wrote (with Will Ferrell, who co-produces here) a similar polemic, on Dubya, called You’re Welcome America. Now he has skimmed a couple of books by progressive journalists and thinks himself ready to encapsulate Cheney, a complex, contentious and rather elusive figure.
McKay calls himself a “democratic socialist” (a Trotskyite, in other words) who supports Bernie Sanders, which is why Hilary Clinton gets a dig in the movie, along with the evil Republicans. It’s their time, what with the current round of political fraying in America and resultant hopeless division, so we guess that this ridiculous, facile, bigoted, devious, dreary, arrogant (and, unfortunately, unfunny) production will be a big hit. In particular, we predict that:
Of the performances, the less said the better. But we must mention Sam Rockwell, who plays a guileless Bush as he might in a South Park cartoon, obviously by design, and Steve Carell (as Donald Rumsfeld) who gives us mimicry rather than a portrayal. And, for a film posing as an edgy political comedy, it sure does drag. How many times must we see Cheney’s heart on the slab? Or Condi Rice, frowning and flummoxed? How often must Everyman Kurt (Jesse Plemons) bob-up to remind us of Dick’s perfidy? If you’re going to do a hatchet-job for laughs, why not go further? If we’d been in charge, we’d have lightened things-up-a-bit: when Nixon and Kissinger are in a closet dreaming-up the bombing of Cambodia, we would have had them spit-roasting an Asian war-child. We’d have had a young Cheney raping librarians at Yale with Brett Kavanaugh. Cheney would give his gay daughter electric-shock therapy. Napalm deer. Pour oil into Yosemite, to drive the price up. Teach golden retrievers to attack African-Americans. Send Mexicans to gas chambers while trying to scientifically establish that Saudis are Honourary Ayrans.
The invasion of Iraq was an awful, shameful, strategic blunder, hazarding and dissipating much blood and treasure, and it deserves to be treated rationally, not as a glib and callous simpleton would. This film is therefore not simply an expensive piece of dreck, but a travesty of history, in which we are expected to believe that a Vice President would subvert the Constitution and sanction War Crimes in order to please his wife and advance his business interests, and that he would puppeteer his Commander-in-Chief to direct an invasion of a sovereign nation because the cloak of an actual country to demonise was required. Perhaps the film-makers truly believe this. But they show no evidence, nor sign of crediting any genuine motive on the part of their targets. In their righteous minds, people such as Cheney and Rumsfeld are not only stupid, but evil. And that’s what takes this film out of the realm of art, despite the high production values, and drops it in the zone of doctrine. True believers will love it.