One of the most impressive accomplishments of the 2018 Oscar season is how writer-director Adam McKay’s Vice managed to shoot to the top as a real contender before all the reviews were in. But in this, the woke era, Hollywood’s festival-loving leftists aren’t as interested in quality as they are in applause lines that tell them how virtuous they are. Judging by the reviews, McKay delivered exactly that — something that shallow.
What’s more, he has also done something remarkable in the partisan times — united both right and left in their hatred of Vice.
Lest I be accused of partisanship, while I find his comedies more smug than fun, I have nothing but admiration for McKay’s Big Short (2015), an endlessly entertaining and highly original examination of the 2008 financial crisis — a movie I’ve now seen at least three or four times. Unlike his comedies, the Big Short is actually fun. Margot Robbie in a hot tub explaining sub-prime loans? Thank heaven McKay was able to sneak that in before the #MeToo movement threw a burqa over the pleasures of objectification.
Even more impressive is that, thanks to the charms of Miss Robbie, unlike the third acts of Trading Places and Wall Street, I actually knew what the hell was going on. McKay won an Oscar for this screenplay and deserved it.
If I appear to be going on about the stylistic joys of the Big Short, it actually does connect to my larger point, which is why the right and left have come together to hate Vice. McKay employed the same conceit of breaking the 4th wall in his story of former Vice President Dick Cheney — not to entertain, apparently, but to lecture and hector.
From the right, National Review’s Kyle Smith hated it:
Other scenes suggest McKay stays up too late taking the political blogs like heroin. He badgers, nay bludgeons, us with his hysteria about the “unitary executive theory”; this is a standard concept in constitutional law, but he frames it as a Cheney-made license for a president to do anything he wants and the source of the world’s ills. Vicealso obsesses over conversations Cheney had with his lawyer and alleged abuses of various executive-branch paperwork requirements (“FACA,” etc.). I won’t bore you with the details, although McKay certainly does. There’s a late montage, as febrile and loony as a Michael Moore segment, blaming Cheney for everything from wildfires to Fox News Channel and (naturally) Donald Trump. When someone compares a dicey political situation to a stack of teacups, McKay cuts to . . . a tottering stack of teacups. Groan.
From the far-left, the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday gave Vice 1.5 stars:
McKay is clearly up to something in trying to invent a new cinematic language for interpreting our recent history, a grammar that combines the pedagogical earnestness of a TED Talk and the gonzo, boundary-breaking sensibility of music videos and his own comic website, “Funny or Die.” Although the filmmaker’s ambition is commendable, in this case the end result feels both busily overdetermined and bluntly simplistic.
Strip away the gimmicks, and what may seem exhilaratingly brash begins to look glib, opportunistic and relatively tame. (There’s no Selena Gomez in “Vice,” but Alfred Molina shows up as a waiter offering a menu of Constitutional gray areas for Cheney, Rumsfeld and their cohorts to chew up and spit out.) There aren’t any revelations or risky hypotheses proffered in “Vice,” just a conveniently parodic primer to remind opponents of the Bush administration why they opposed the Bush administration.
From the right, the Washington Free Beacon trolled it as “the best superhero origin story of the year“:
The [movie’s] second personality, meanwhile, resembles an internet-addled crank ranting conspiratorial talk about billionaires and corporations. Kochs! Coors! Fairness Doctrine! Solar Panels! Blood for Oil! War for Pipelines! Unitary Executive Theory! McKay tries to tie this half of the film to the other half of the film with limited success, lazily relying on a voiceover by Jesse Plemons to convey each grievance efficiently and artlessly.
From the left:
Many of the narrative flourishes that proved sort of clever in The Big Short, from Margot Robbie riffing on subprime mortgages in a bubble bath to Selena Gomez unpacking collateralized debt obligations in a casino, really don’t work here. The most glaring example is a scene in a fancy beltway restaurant wherein Alfred Molina, playing a waiter, serves a tableful of shady political operatives a menu with options like “enhanced interrogation.” It’s Borowitz-level satire—embarrassing and awfully reductive. Or what about the scene where a character describes the political climate as being as precarious as dozens of porcelain teacups towered high…only to have the action then cut to a literal tower of porcelain teacups swaying to and fro. It’s an all-out assault on the senses, and not in a good way.
Vice does currently enjoy a middling 68 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is respectable, but lower than Anchorman 2, and far from Best Picture material.