MIAMI VICE (2006)
During it’s run in the 1980’s, the Miami Vice television series distinguished itself via a stylized cast, sharp action, and some strong characterizations. With a 2006 feature film update from Michael Mann – who executive produced the series – the movie retains most of the series’ virtues in spirit if not in practice. The result, an unabashedly Mann film shot with style, cast with grace, executed with skill, but suffering from too many vices of its own to create a solid film like Mann’s previous hits Heat and Collateral.
Lacking credits and even studio logos, Miami Vice jumps right into a night club under surveillance by undercover narcotics detectives James "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). In the process, an old informant of the duo calls Crockett about an FBI setup to catch some drug dealers that’s gone bad. The FBI wants to take down the crooks but their internal security has been compromised, so they recruit the two outside detectives Crockett and Tubbs. Acting undercover as drug transporters the pair infiltrate a large drug organization, Crockett becoming emotionally involved with the shady Isabella (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha) and culminating in a big drug deal that puts Tubb’s girlfriend at risk.
Vice does a credible job of dumping the two characters into a larger crime circle normally outside their beat in Miami. The film first visually carries the audience along for a ride then drops pieces of dialogue to fill out the story. Again working with his digital cameras from previous work Collateral, Mann creates a very dark world of undercover narcotics investigation that retains focus and style without sacrificing the image. Farrel and Foxx are well cast and up to the challenge of portraying the ever-so-serious characters of the script, each bringing a grounded, realistic performance to match the nearly documentary style shooting of the film. When the movie works as a down-and-dirty, in-the-trenches story, it works well. When more cinematic drama is required, this is where both the shooting style and the script hits a few speed bumps.
Director Michael Mann’s choppy, on-the-fly editing for Vice is his method meant to simulate the main character’s undercover life as a fluid, ever-changing playing field; it’s do or die. Sounds great in theory, but in practice the film feels very disconnected from one scene to the next. Miami Vice lacks a coherent flow and during the lengthy middle scenes of the film the movie just can’t create any subtle buildup and the actors can’t create any feeling leading to a dramatic climax. The film does have an explosive finale with all the you-are-there camera work and visceral energy we’ve come to love from Mann’s films. Yet without a compelling ride, the payoff feels like too little, too late.
This new Miami Vice does have style, the characters do their cool act, and the villians are sufficiently menacing. Problem is, film audiences have seen style, cool, and menacing many times before nearly every summer. Vice doesn’t bring anything new that hasn’t been done in the past, especially by Mann himself. Those expecting anything as iconic as the clothing in the original 1980’s series will be disappointed and film fans expecting some drama to hold together the brief action will miss out as well.
A better than average summer action movie, but a less than average Michael Mann film.