Adam McKay's Vice is a 2 hour and 12 minute SNL sketch (McKay is an alum of that show) - with better make-up and actors.
The movie follows former Vice-President (under Bush II) Dick Chaney from his wildwood days in Wyoming (two DUIs) to the White House. The journey is long, with stints as Chief of Staff (Ford), Congressman and Secretary of Defense (Reagan). The overall theme is that but for his wife, Lynn, Chaney would have been a drunken cowboy with a serious heart problem.
The acting is superb. As Chaney, Christian Bale projects a man willing to do anything to get what he wants. Amy Adams as his wife, Lynn Chaney, keeps her husband's ambition on track as Lady Macbeth. Steve Carell as Dick Rumsfeld is as smarmy as the original. Sam Rockwell as Bush II brings the lights-on-but-nobody's-home quality to a President defined by his being the puppet for whatever special interests happen to see him last. Tyler Perry as Colin Powell is more a cameo than a role played by an actor whose name is above the title.
What Chaney wants is power. One of the flicks themes is how Chaney & Company pushed a theory called 'The Unified Executive', a nebulous phrase that really is just old The Imperial Presidency dressed up to sound legal. The argument is simple and best expressed by Richard Nixon who famously said, "If the President does it, then it's legal."
McKay tells the story of the rise of Chaney with the tools used mostly in TV comedy sketches. For example, when discussing the run-up to the Iraqi War, we see Chaney and his minions at dinner when the waiter (Alfred Molina, uncredited) goes through a menu listing all of the crazy constitutional theories they put out to justify their illegal acts. The scene ends with Chaney saying that they will have all of them - of course.
Vice tries to be a real biography when it shows Chaney supporting his gay daughter (Alison Pill in a role as small as her name) even though he and his supporters have been virulently anti-gay. I am not sure where this part of the story goes because when his other daughter , Liz (Lily Rabe) runs for Congress and says she is against gay marriage, we see his gay daughter call Chaney and cry that she has been betrayed. This incident shows us a lot that is wrong about Vice. Liz is a grown woman yet Vice wants you to believe that her father made this decision for her,
Vice is about an 45 minutes too long. All the stuff before the Bush II years is just a set up to show us how Chaney & Company took the US to war in Iran (the movie claims it was for PR reasons - huh?) and destroyed the US constitution's check and balances form of government. While the movie has some interesting quirks - the menu bit and others that are based on the techniques used in sketch comedy - it is far from a scathing portrait of how the US ended up where it is, scorned by most of the world and a plutocracy. There are some laughs and surprises, like any good comedy sketch, but nothing that is worth 2 hours and 12 minutes of our time.