Barry Shabaka Henley
If there is one recent trend in Hollywood filmmaking I can’t abide, itis adapting old television series into big-budget motion pictures. Whileevery so often you get one that works, such as The Fugitive or thefirst Mission: Impossible, most of the time you are stuck with smug,self-parodying drivel among the likes of the Charlie’s Angels films,Bewitched or The Dukes of Hazzard.
With its bright pastelcolors and fashion and ’80s pop soundtrack, one would have expected the newfilm version of Miami Vice to be another two-hour lame spoof probably starring OwenWilson and Chris Tucker.
Thankfully, it’s quite the opposite. Directed and written by the show’s co-creator, Michael Mann, Miami Viceopens with Miami undercover detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) andRicardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) learning of a high-level leak has led to theslaughter of undercover federal agents and the murder of an informantfriend’s family. Pulled into the case by the Feds, their investigationtakes them straight to the doorstep of a group of Central American drug andweapons traffickers whose network runs worldwide, led by Arcngel de JessMontoya (Luis Tosar), his second-in-command Jose Yero (John Ortiz) andIsabella (Gong Li), Montoya’s mistress and money manager of theoperation.
Crockett, Tubbs and their team works to infiltrate the group responsiblefor the deaths, but things begin to get complicated. Crockett begins aromantic relationship with Isabella, and for Tubbs, it’s the provocation ofwanting to get revenge for the deaths of his informant friend, his family,and an assault on a fellow team member whom Tubbs is involved with, Trudy(Naomie Harris).
In terms of story and character, Miami Vice is fairly routinepolice thriller material. We don’t learn all that much about either Crockettor Tubbs aside from surface materials, and there are no big surprises ortwists to be found in the plot as it heads toward its action-packed finale.Considering that Mann also wrote such crime genre winners as Thief,Heat and Collateral, you would expect something a little morecomplex and developed.
Then again, “deep” and “complex” were two things that the televisionseries never were. Miami Vice has always been about style oversubstance, which is exactly what you get with the movie. A lot of directorswould have been content with just that and tried to make as slick, and dumb,a movie as possible.
But Michael Mann isn’t one of those people. He is one of the fewfilmmakers in Hollywood today that certainly knows how to make stylesubstantial. His eye and ear for details regarding police and drugtrafficking procedure and expert staging of individual scenes help elevatethe material, and with the help of his Collateral cinematographerDion Beebe (using hand-held High Definition cameras), Mann also createsterrific atmosphere and sustaining of intensity in the Florida night.
Foxx and Farrell make for a solid duo, even if their interactions seem abit on the nominal side in terms of sentiment (cracking one or two quickjokes might have helped a bit). That missing emotion, and the film’s areasof humanity and heart, can be found in the relationship scenes betweenFarrell and Li and Foxx and Harris. Tosar is a bit underused as the shadowydrug lord Montoya, but Ortiz is fun in a Scarface way as Montoya’sunderling. Ciaran Hinds and Barry Shabaka Henley are also good if a bitunderused as FBI agent Fujima and Lieutenant Castillo, respectively.
Miami Vice may not be the most original or best movie that MichaelMann has made (that honor is a tossup between Thief and TheInsider), but it is a fast-paced, gritty and involving action thrillerthat stands head and shoulders above much else released by Hollywoodso far this summer.