Post-credits scenes tend to be either chasers or aperitifs, a little something to make the movie you’ve just seen go down smoothly or, in the case of franchise films, to whet your appetite for the next one. But the scene in the middle of Vice’s credits is so rancid, and such a bad-faith attack on the film’s assumed audience, that it makes an already lousy movie even worse. It’s not often that a few seconds of footage has the power to retroactively poison an entire film.
Vice, Adam McKay’s biopic about Dick Cheney’s rise to power, isn’t the kind of movie you’d expect to have a post-credits scene, but by the time it’s finished blaring an off-kilter version of West Side Story’s “America” over the closing credits, it’s hard to believe that it has anything more to say. (The idea that Cheney and Rumsfeld acted as if they believed in nothing is an old one; the idea that they knew they believed in nothing is absurd.) But a burst of video static after those credits returns us to the site of a focus group we saw in an earlier scene vetting the Bush-Cheney administration’s rationales for military intervention in Iraq. Only this time, they’re expressing their opinions about Vice itself.
The first person we hear from is an older white man in baggy jeans and a sports jersey who complains that “the whole thing’s liberal. It’s got a liberal bias.” Another man, this one wearing glasses and a collared shirt, retorts, “It’s all facts, right? They had to vet all this with a lawyer.” The first man shoots back, “You would say that, libtard. … You probably like Hillary,” then the second calls Trump an “orange Cheeto,” and a few seconds later, they’re on the floor scuffling as the group dissolves in chaos.
So far, in keeping with Vice’s broad, didactic tone. After all, this is a movie that suggests Dick Cheney has no heart by showing us his empty chest cavity during a heart transplant. It’s the shot after the scuffle that makes the post-credits scene truly unforgivable, and imparts a sour aftertaste to everything that proceeds it. As the two men fight, the film cuts to a young woman, another member of the focus group, watching impassively from the sidelines. “I can’t wait to see the new Fast and the Furious movie?” she confides in a neighbor, her voice thick with vocal fry. “That looks lit.”
For most of Vice, you can sustain the idea that perhaps Adam McKay made such a jittery, heavy-handed movie because he’s so passionate about the importance of his subject. He knows that the details of Cheney’s political machinations, like the finer points of mortgage-backed securities in The Big Short, can be difficult to absorb, so he goes out of his way to serve them up on a platter—literally, in a sequence where Alfred Molina plays a cheery waiter offering Bush administration officials a menu of legal justifications for torture. But the credits sting makes clear that, as far as McKay is concerned, the problem isn’t that this stuff is too difficult to understand. It’s that he thinks you’re a fucking moron.
Well, perhaps not you, a person who presumably has had the good taste and discernment to purchase a ticket to Adam McKay’s new movie. But, you know, those other people, the ones more concerned with watching cars smash into each other than paying attention to the stuff that really matters. Those are, presumably, the same kind of people who, during the period covered by Vice, might have laughed themselves silly at Anchorman, a raucous, escapist comedy directed by *checks notes* Adam McKay. But it’s 2018 now, so, you know, screw those people.
There may be moments in Vice that are worse, like the one where a young Cheney asks a young Donald Rumsfeld, “What do we believe?” and a breathless, laughing Rumsfeld shuts the door in his face. But at least there, the movie’s contempt is directed at people who’ve earned it. Directing that contempt at an audience that’s already suffered through two hours of Vice adds insult to injury, and personifying that audience’s most distractible members in the form of a young woman throws old-man sexism into the mix. By its closing credits, Vice is already beyond redemption, but McKay finds a way to take one more shot, and he misses badly. It’s like eating a meal of table scraps and then being served a shot of raw sewage to wash it down.