Dark comic biopic ‘Vice’ takes aim at former Vice President Dick Cheney

Dec 27, 2018, 5:30 PM | Updated: Dec 28, 2018, 4:58 am

“VICE” — 2½ stars — Christian Bale, Sam Rockwell, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Tyler Perry; R (language and some violent imagery); in general release; running time: 132 minutes

Dick Cheney may not be the anti-Christ, but he’d probably give him a ride to the airport. That seems to be the main takeaway from “Vice,” director Adam McKay’s scathing attempt to excoriate the former U.S. vice president.

As “Vice” opens, the titles inform us that while McKay’s film is a “true story,” Cheney is also a famously secretive man, so the filmmakers just had to do their best to put everything together. The translation is clear: Take “Vice” with a Bonneville Raceway-sized dose of salt.

The narrative toggles back and forth between Cheney’s rise to political power and the dramatic events of his time in the Bush administration, primarily connected to the 9/11 attacks. Images of him getting pulled over for drunk driving in the early 1960s are juxtaposed against him calling the shots in a White House bunker after the airplanes hit the World Trade Center.

Piece by piece, McKay assembles a narrative that follows Cheney (played by a fully immersed Christian Bale) through his time as a congressional intern under future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), as White House chief of staff under President Gerald Ford (Bill Camp) and as a Wyoming congressman supported by his long-suffering wife Lynne (Amy Adams).

Once his own presidential aspirations are quashed, Cheney eventually moves into the private sector as CEO of Halliburton, only to get drawn back into the political fight as future President George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000.

Beneath a dark comic tone, the message is the same: Washington motivations are universally cynical, selfish and manipulative — or at least they are for Republicans. We never know what the motivations of Democrats are, because aside from a pair of fleeting real-life news clips — one that shows Hillary Clinton endorsing the invasion of Iraq — the left side of the aisle is completely absent from the screen.

But at the same time, “Vice” never manages to offer a satisfactory explanation of why Cheney does what he does. Early on, he’s aimless, hanging power lines in Wyoming after getting kicked out of Yale, and when he makes it to Washington, his choice of political party feels almost arbitrary. “Vice” wants Cheney to be the villain, but until a fourth-wall breaking monologue at the end of the movie, the character remains opaque.

Instead, McKay tries to connect Cheney to most every historical tragedy of the last 20 years, blaming him for everything from the rise of ISIS to the housing crisis, and finishing the film with a dramatic montage that feels like a propaganda film. Even the one thing “Vice” seems to allow as a positive — Cheney’s support of his lesbian daughter Mary (Alison Pill) — eventually just becomes more ammunition.

Bale’s performance is the film’s primary bright spot, blending perfectly to a tone that seems to emulate last year’s “I, Tonya” in its antagonistic sense of humor. Adams is solid as Lynne, and in his limited screen time, Sam Rockwell plays George W. Bush as the kind of cartoon caricature pop culture reflected in the mid-2000s.

Unfortunately, as with many politically charged films, audiences will likely react to “Vice” along party lines, as it validates the frustrations of one side and inspires the frustrations of the other. The film’s production is just good enough to make you wish it had been applied to a more thoughtful examination of such a polarizing character. Instead, “Vice” just feels like the cinematic equivalent of throwing rotten tomatoes at a stump speech.

Rating explained: “Vice” is rated R for intermittent profanity, as well as some fleeting images of torture and interrogation, along with some associated male nudity.

Lifetime Windows & Doors

Entertainment Latest

motley crue...
Kevin Stone

Valley show featuring Motley Crue, Def Leppard rescheduled for 2021

The Stadium Tour, with headliners Motley Crue and Def Leppard, has been reset for 2021, including a date at State Farm Stadium.
2 years ago
Tucson Festival of Books...

List of Arizona events canceled or postponed in response to coronavirus

Here is a list of events in Arizona that have been canceled, postponed or otherwise impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
3 years ago
Zac Brown Band...
Kevin Stone

Zac Brown Band postpones Phoenix show as coronavirus spreads

The Zac Brown Band announced it was postponing a show at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix this month, citing "public health concerns."
3 years ago
Justin Bieber...
Kevin Stone

Justin Bieber downsizes Valley show from stadium to Gila River Arena

Pop star Justin Bieber's Valley concert set for June 5 has been relocated from State Farm Stadium in Glendale to neighboring Gila River Arena.
3 years ago
Kevin Stone

Ozzy Osbourne cancels postponed farewell tour, including Phoenix show

Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tours 2 tour, which was scheduled to stop in Phoenix this summer, is no more because of the metal legend's health issues.
3 years ago
Rage Against the Machine...
Kevin Stone

Details released for Rage Against the Machine concert in Phoenix area

It turns out that Rage Against the Machine’s upcoming Phoenix show – which will actually be in Glendale – is part of a seven-month world tour.
3 years ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Dark comic biopic ‘Vice’ takes aim at former Vice President Dick Cheney