The comic challenge for Adam McKay, who made his name with Will Ferrell vehicles, in depicting the life of former Vice President Dick Cheney is not that no amount of satire could make the George W. Bush administration seem more ridiculous than it was, but that we already have a near perfect lampoon of the venality of Washington D.C. as represented by the second-in-command: Veep. Granted, McKay, as he did with The Big Short, is attempting to graft semi-serious real life matters onto frat boy stock situations, and there certainly wasn’t a bigger mess of frat boy toxicity than the Bush II White House. The real problem with this kind of approach is that the actors seem to be having much more fun than the audience is.
That’s mainly because those of us who lived through the years when, as this movie so bluntly tells us, Cheney ran the country like a big defense contractor can’t help but recall how much the country suffered for his hubris—and is still suffering. Cheney’s now famous tendency toward the manipulative is ripe for the kind of man-baby farce McKay trades in, but there is only one scene in Vice that takes full advantage of this confluence of meaning, and that’s when Cheney (Christian Bale) is convincing Dubya (Sam Rockwell) that it is the latter’s idea that he come on as his running mate. Though Cheney’s wife, Lynn (Amy Adams), believes that Dick should run himself, the man knows that he would probably not be elected because…well, he’s an asshole—he knows it, and so do the American people. But if a clueless moron like George W. Bush were elected and he was his backup, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted, and to the Cheney that McKay has pasted together, power, regardless of how it’s used, is the only thing he cares about.
And confluences don’t come more unfortunate than 9/11, which fell into Cheney’s lap like a big, beautiful present, since he was still strongly connected to Halliburton and could make tons of money, pretty much on the up-and-up. McKay tries to frame Cheney’s machinations as the product of a youthful inferiority complex that manifested as alcoholic binges interrupted by miraculously Machiavellian opportunism. He practically bullied his way into a job with Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrey) during the Nixon administration, even though by all appearances the two men couldn’t stand each other. In any case, Rumsfeld may have been maybe the only person in Washington more cheerfully dishonest than Cheney. He was a great teacher. As was Henry Kissinger when Cheney graduated to a higher office in the Gerald Ford (Bill Camp) administration.
McKay’s most valuable point is that the same dozen families have been directing U.S. policy since the 60s, regardless of who is nominally in charge. Though the point has been made better before, McKay doesn’t present it in paranoiac terms. It’s farce, and while he doesn’t second guess Cheney’s penchant for evil, he implies with the SNL-sketch style development that the American people pretty much deserve an asshole like Dick Cheney. There’s not a whole lot of curiosity on McKay’s part in trying to figure out why someone like Cheney literally got away with murder, and in a way that’s the scariest thing about Vice: Dick Cheney’s story is not a cautionary tale. It’s entertainment at our own expense.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Vice home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2019 Annapurna Pictures LLC