Even with a talented cast and huge ambition, Adam McKay's Vice is the year's biggest hot mess.
Christian Bale has transformed his body yet again to play Vice President Dick Cheney, who served under President George W. Bush and expanded the power of the Executive Branch to dangerous levels. His performance is by far the best part of this uneven project, keeping it together when the movie falls off the rails.
While the movie employs some of the same fourth wall-breaking techniques in McKay's much better The Big Short, it also sometimes contorts itself uncomfortably into the shape of a traditional biopic, to the point that it almost feels like parody. Its first 20 minutes are particularly bland, portraying Cheney as an alcoholic dropout, who finally gets his life in order thanks to the love of a good woman. Amy Adams is excellent as usual as Lynne Cheney, which the film positions as the VP's Lady Macbeth, but then really drives the point home by having them dip into iambic pentameter.
Yet the film is often excellent in its main stretch, focusing on Cheney's time in Washington before the Bush administrations, first as an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell, playing him as Michael Scott with no moral compass), then as Gerald Ford's chief of staff, and as Wyoming's lone congressman. There's a deep cynicism running through the film, especially as it portrays Cheney and Rumsfeld as the architects of the modern Republican party, turning some of the most abhorrent policies into standard operating procedure.
The film also has a lot of fun using Cheney's four heart attacks as a recurring gag that's treated as a minor inconvenience. "Sorry, gang. I think we need to go to the hospital," Bale says as the family's supposed to be celebrating a major political victory. But it saves its darkest joke for its narrator, played by Jesse Plemons. His connection to the story seems tangential at best, until it snaps into focus in the last act, making his life seem like a cruel twist of fate.
But when the movie is bad, it's really bad. There's a post-credits scene, in particular, that's among the worst things I've seen all year. It's insulting to people of all political persuasions and ends the film on a particularly smug note.
I had high hopes for Vice, but despite like too many politicians, it let me down.