The first thing you should know about “Vice” is that its real star is Adam McKay.
He’s not exactly a household word, so if you’re scratching your head about his identity, here’s a little bit about him:
McKay, a Second City alumnus, and Will Ferrell co-wrote “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talladega Nights” and “The Other Guys.” And, through their Gary Sanchez Productions, they founded the website “Funny Or Die.”
“Vice” most closely resembles “The Big Short,” which McKay helmed and co-wrote, based on the Michael Lewis bestseller.
This kinda-sorta biopic of Dick Cheney pretty much skewers the former vice president under George W. Bush.
McKay, who read everything available about Cheney before he made the movie, hired a reporter to interview people off-the-record to confirm situations and conversations. And, although I can’t print it here, there’s a hilarious disclaimer at the beginning of the film that says he, uh, did his best.
The movie goes back and forth in time, and sometimes characters speak directly to the viewer. So we see Cheney at various decades, from his hard-drinking days and his status as a Yale drop-out to his days as a shrewd Washington insider.
An unrecognizable Christian Bale plays Cheney (think about the way Gary Oldman transformed into Winston Church in “Darkest Hour.”)
His wife, Lynne (Amy Adams) reads him the riot act: He needs to shape up or she will move on. Eventually, Cheney becomes a congressional intern, and works for Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), who teaches Cheney all kinds of manipulations but in two words tells him the secret to political success: “Be loyal.”
Cheney becomes Rumsfeld’s successor as White House chief of staff under President Gerald Ford. Cheney becomes a master at behind-the-scenes control, and loves the power that comes with it.
McKay performs some tricks of his own, with a fake ending in the middle of the movie, celebrity cameos (Tyler Perry, incidentally, makes a great Colin Powell), breaking the fourth wall and a scene in which the Cheneys discuss their power in Shakespearean – Adams’ character is a modern Lady MacBeth — verse, throwing in the occasional images of wildlife, from fish to hyenas, to enhance scenes.
Adams is wonderfully fierce as the ambitious spouse who knows how to appeal to her husband’s supporters in public and, in private, how to push her husband every step of the way.
Bale, as always, gives a commendable performance as the quiet, ruthless puppet-master.
This isn’t a straight-on laugh riot like some of McKay’s other movies – please don’t expect the belly laughs that “Anchorman” delivered. It has elements of both a satire and a docudrama that will delight viewers who appreciate McKay’s uncommon approach to comedy … and to politics.