A bad drug bust further sours a cop's miserable life in "Vice," a genre pic derived from bits and pieces of so many other superior films that it never attains its own identity.
A bad drug bust further sours a cop’s miserable life in “Vice,” a genre pic derived from bits and pieces of so many other superior films that it never attains its own identity. Michael Madsen would appear to have an ideal role as an alcoholic member of a vice squad in crisis, but unlike his recent knockout turn in Olivier Assayas’ “Boarding Gate,” the perf never delivers the expected punches under Raul Sanchez Inglis’ wobbly direction. Likely to be swamped by the theatrical competition, Canuck-made pic will be revived in vid niches where it belongs.
Trouble can be sensed in the first two moments, when Madsen’s Walker stumbles into a church and appears to begin praying before a crucifix, then is seen telling a woman on a street to show him her ass. Both scenes are virtually direct lifts from Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant” and immediately brand pic as brazenly derivative; ensuing storylines only reinforce the matter.
In the middle of a sting on a drug ring led by Darius (Emy Aneke), Walker and partner Sampson (Mykelti Williamson) are undercover, while their squad partners — Salt (Daryl Hannah), Bugsby (Mark Boone Jr.), Travalino (John Cassini), Chambers (Aaron Pearl) and Zelco (Matthew Robert Kelly, also producer) — wait in the wings. Once the inevitable bullets fly, Walker shoots an innocent woman in the confusion, with Salt as his sworn-to-secrecy witness.
The drug stash is found, but Darius manages to get away, and homicide detective Jenkins (Nicholas Lea), universally despised by the vice cops, smells a rat with the dead woman’s shooting. Even as Jenkins’ suspicions center on Walker and lead to a federal investigation, each cop, starting with Zelco, is killed under mysterious circumstances.
“Vice” has the potential to be a vastly more interesting moral drama than it becomes, starting with Walker’s easy willingness to plant evidence or to conceal the truth by compelling Salt and Sampson into complicity. However, these sins are comparatively mild compared to those in “Bad Lieutenant” or “The French Connection” (to name but two pics quoted here), and Walker’s own inner life remains murky. A passing mention of his recently dead wife will be missed by auds not paying close attention, and two presumably key scenes with his lonely mother (Bette Linde) shed little light on his apparently tortured soul.
Agatha Christie-like twists as each cop falls (sometimes by another cop’s hand, sometimes by vengeful drug dealers) lead to an implausible conclusion, further imploding a movie already weakened by rote dialogue and indistinct characters.
Pic is somewhat touched by Quentin Tarantino’s aura, particularly in the casting of “Kill Bill’s” Madsen and Hannah — who’s disappointingly reduced to the gal who’s ignored by her alpha-male colleagues — and most of all in the skilled widescreen anamorphic lensing by Andrzej Sekula, whose talent at sculpting nighttime shadow and intrigue remains supreme. Growling mood score by Cliff Martinez is a fair entry in his fine resume.
Though mainly Canadian in all but the lead roles, and using a wide range of Vancouver locations, pic insists on a U.S. setting as if to erase its actual origins.