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Dick Cheney Biopic 'Vice' Falls Flat

Not even Christian Bale can get down to the dark essence of the former political player.

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Christian Bale lies in wait as Dick Cheney, in Vice.
  • Christian Bale lies in wait as Dick Cheney, in Vice.

Let's have a show of hands. How many of you are up for a dramatization of the career of former Vice President Dick Cheney? Anyone? Come on now. You realize, don't you, that Cheney was the de facto head of state during the George W. Bush presidency, and that after 9/11 he ran the whole show from his office. Meaning he made the decisions for the most powerful nation on Earth, even though few voters knew anything about him. Cheney and his cronies were the ones who started the war in Afghanistan and continued the perpetual war against Iraq — you know, that thing about "weapons of mass destruction." Remember? Anybody interested in how that happened?

For what it's worth, Christian Bale makes an amazing transformation in the title role of Vice. He pulls a De Niro by putting on weight, undergoing cosmetic "aging," and cultivating Cheney's sinister halting, stage-whisper vocal style in order to flesh out the character. By the time Bale appears onscreen — after a quick backstory intro — in full regalia as Bush's running mate in the 2000 election, he's even mastered the Cheney sneer, the chilling, unhurried, reptile-heart confidence of someone who has it all sewn up.

Vice just lies there dead as a hooked Wyoming trout anyway. Writer-director Adam McKay, a jovial type (The Big Short, numerous Will Ferrell vehicles), keeps his eye on the target but ultimately seems just as depressed about Cheney as the rest of us. The jokes are old and tend to fall flat. McKay assembles a first-rate cast of nutty character actors to back up Bale's wheezing, sloth-like Dick — Sam Rockwell (perfect as W. Bush), Steve Carell (war criminal Donald Rumsfeld), Amy Adams (the brains of the outfit, conservative think-piece scribe Lynne Cheney), Bill Camp (miscast as Gerald Ford), Eddie Marsan (rodent-ish Paul Wolfowitz), Tyler Perry (poor stooge Colin Powell), and, in what passes for a satirical coup, actor Paul Yoo as UC Berkeley's own John Yoo, aka Professor Torture, Master of the Water Board. Cheney and his wife perform a scene from Macbeth in their bed one night before turning in, but Birnam Wood never arrives.

The backdrop for the Cheney gang's depredations is a montage of war footage, stupid TV game shows, Abu Ghraib POW humiliations, and narrator Jesse Plemons (the Everyman who gives up his heart, literally, for the boss) explaining, "With people working longer and longer hours for less and less, when we do have free time, the last thing we want is complicated analysis of our government, lobbying, international trade agreements, and tax bills." Vice hits most of the notes but the big picture is too distressing for any one film. A book might have worked better. Predictably, Cheney gets the last word: "You chose me, and I did what you asked." 

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