There were possibly some fine performances on the set of Vice, Adam McKay's hyperactive wiki survey of the life of Dick Cheney, but we see only trace elements of them in this restless, distractible, exhausting film. Bulked up by makeup and prosthetics, scowling and rumbling with that quiet smugness that suggests ultimate power, Christian Bale seems, in the glimpses we get of him, to have captured the essence of Cheney-ness.
Amy Adams, meanwhile, remains recognizable after her transformation into Lynne Cheney, her flinty satiric spirit shining through the bobbed wigs and body padding. But I can't say, really, what this Lynne believes in or aspires to, because McKay, skittish as a cat sleeping by a highway, cuts away almost every time she starts to speak.
The writer-director shared an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for The Big Short, his 2010 explainer-comedy about Wall Street malfeasance in the economic crash of 2008. And he seems to have taken as the lesson of that success that audiences prefer in a feature infodump sketch comedy explicating recent history rather than compelling dramatizations of it. Don't look to Vice for psychology or even a sense of presence; McKay uses the Cheneys' grim unknowability as an excuse not to bother going for either. Still, there's alarming truth in the arguments Vice makes about Dick Cheney, the seizure of executive power, and the outsourcing of our foreign and energy policy to energy companies. But the film plays like a parody of what the Cheneys think liberals think of the Cheneys, an editorial cartoon that shouts in your face for much too long.