Miami Vice

2 stars


8th August 2006

With the current climate of repackaging old TV shows for big-screen remakes, who better to helm a Miami Vice movie than one Michael Mann, executive producer of the original television series and a director well-known for shooting locations so lusciously, they're often more interesting than the characters placed within? While pastel suits and white slip-on loafers were obviously never going to be on the agenda in this modern-day take, unfortunately Mann has also surgically removed any traces of a sense of humour for the remake, leaving a decidedly sombre affair that plays as a straight-faced drama and ultimately suffers from the weight of its own pretensions.

Viewers of the 80's cop classic will remember detectives James 'Sonny' Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo 'Rico' Tubbs (Foxx), who return to the seedy world of the underground vice trade, only now with their sleeves rolled firmly down. When bad intelligence causes an FBI investigation to be compromised, the Miami authorities are brought in to go undercover, with Crockett and Tubbs asked to go deeper into a drugs cartel than anyone has ever been before. Posing as drug runners, the pair are integrated into the racket run by bigtime narcotics trafficker Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar), but their personal lives and professional lives become dangerously entwined when Crockett falls for the cartel's Chinese-Cuban banker Isabella (Li) and Tubbs' girlfriend and partner Trudy (Naomie Harris) becomes involved.

Mann delivers well on what he promises; a no-nonsense, hard-as-balls thriller, with the drugs, guns, girls and speedboats ethic of the original still intact. Still plugging away with DV, his Miami looks every bit as special as Will Smith made it out to be; exotic to the point of paradise during the day, pulsating with life at night, swathed in neon that might as well be advertising sin. Mann glides through the city streets, soaking in every last ounce of detail, enveloping his lead characters in a living, breathing environment that's every bit as dangerous as it is beautiful. When the tension is ramped up, Mann's kinetic shooting style puts you in the very centre of the action; this is violence as it is in the real world i.e. brutal, powerful and visceral. Characters don't fall theatrically off of railings to their death or clutch their chests dramatically, most just slump to the ground ungracefully, leaving just a cloud of red mist in their place. Some of the gunfire will make your teeth rattle; you won't have seen shootouts like this since the days of Mann's own Heat.

No, the problem is a lack of spark between Crockett and Tubbs. Here we have two cats who have supposedly been through it all together, have each others' backs and should be finishing each others' sentences - instead, they barely speak to each other at all. While we couldn't possibly recommend a return to the cheese-fest dialogue of the original TV show, a little bit of banter wouldn't have gone amiss; it's understandable Mann wanted this Miami Vice to be as black as night, but with two fast-talkers like Foxx and Farrell on board, it's a criminal waste of natural talent. Crockett and Tubbs keep their serious faces on throughout proceedings and rarely let their guard down; Farrell in particular often looks plain embarrassed to be the owner of such a shit haircut and rarely cracks a smile. This is humourless territory, remember - drugs are bad, m'kay?

As well as the lack of frisson between Crockett and Tubbs, the relationship between Farrell and Gong Li's femme fatale also doesn't convince; apart from a quick fumble in a shower (one of two such gratuitous sex scenes) and some rumpy in the back of a car, you're left in the dark as to exactly why Crockett would put everything on the line for this woman, aside from her nice rack. Not only does his character have to suffer an appalling mullet, but Farrell is left with the thankless role of lovesick puppy to boot - not the stuff that hardcore vice agents are made of. Dispensing with an opening credit sequence and plunging straight into the story, Mann doesn't waste any time in setting the wheels in motion and doesn't stick around waiting for any of us to play catch up. Dialogue is often completely impenetrable - conversations are littered with terms like 'drops', 'loads' and 'products' and tend to alienate those of us who aren't up on cop lingo - and may leave you feeling out of the loop on more than one occasion.

Where a film like Traffic showed several sides of the world of narcotics, in Miami Vice you don't see so much as a single line of coke throughout - the battle lines are drawn, the drug dealers are the bad guys, and our vice squad the heroes. There's mileage in the premise of undercover agents in too deep they get turned upside down, but here you're never in any doubt they'll emerge unscathed and right side-up - so morally righteous are our narcs, they're never once tempted by the power at their fingertips. It's a refusal to humanise Crockett and Tubbs that makes Miami Vice no more compelling than your average cop drama, albeit one with a hard-hitting style and a nice line in moody backdrops. With his pedigree, Michael Mann should have hit this one out of the park; perhaps it's time he stops squeezing life out of his locations and starts focusing on his characters again.

More:  Action  Drama  Thriller  Remake
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