Miami Vice (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The two best words to describe the 2006 motion picture Miami Vice are "stylish" and "intense." One of those descriptors without the other could lead one to suspect a pretentious bore or a pointless exercise in action but, by pairing them, writer/director Michael Mann has crafted a gripping, visually interesting motion picture that doesn't fail on the basis of its needlessly convoluted plot and its hit-or-miss character arcs. As police dramas go, Miami Vice never loses its audience, in part because it is unpredictable (you never feel like anyone, even the lead characters, is destined to survive the proceedings) and in part because it never slows down.

Calling the film Miami Vice is unnecessary - a marketing artifact. Aside from a few character names, little of the 1980s TV show remains in the motion picture. The movie is more reminiscent of Mann's films Heat and Collateral than it is of the television program his name became associated with. Viewers who go into Miami Vice with the baggage of expectations may be disappointed by what they find. Like The Untouchables, this is a case in which the big screen version is a complete re-imagining of its small screen forebear. There are no cutting edge fashions. The music is new (even "In the Air Tonight" is a cover). And there are no cameos or instances of original stars reprising roles. (Although Edward James Olmos was offered the opportunity to return as Lt. Castillo, scheduling conflicts with Battlestar Galactica forced him to decline.)

The premise has Miami cops Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) going undercover to discover and plug a leak in the FBI that has resulted in a busted sting and several deaths. Posing as transportation experts, they meet with drug smuggler Jose Yero (John Oritz) and his associate, Isabella (Gong Li), to propose that they replace Yero's current distribution apparatus and handle shipments of his illegal merchandise to the United States. Yero is suspicious, but his boss, Montoya (Luis Tosar), overrules him. Meanwhile, Isabella acts as Montoya's go-between and begins an affair with Crockett.

When it comes down to it, there's not a lot of action in Miami Vice, and most of it occurs during the final 30 minutes. Mann is an expert at sleight of hand, however, and the film seems more combustible than it is. A lot of that has to do with the throbbing soundtrack and a pervasive sense of danger. Scenes such as the one in which Crockett and Tubbs introduce themselves to Yero aren't violent, but they bubble with the potential for a bloodbath. Likewise, Crockett's affair with Isabella treads along the razor's edge of betrayal and catastrophe.

The romantic interaction of the leads help to humanize them, broadening them beyond the confines of the stereotypical "rogue cops" - tight partners who don't play by the rules. There's chemistry in the seemingly unlikely pairing of Gong Li and Colin Farrell. Less attention is paid to the liaison between Jamie Foxx and Naomie Harris' Trudy Joplin, but this relationship has an important outcome.

Farrell and Foxx are fine in their roles as long as one doesn't start comparing them to Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. We believe these two are the smartest, slickest cops to do this job - fearless in the face of death and willing to risk everything. One senses that the real payoff may not be getting the bad guys, but getting off on the adrenaline of the chase and the thrill of dancing with the devil. International Chinese superstar Gong Li has difficulty with her English and Spanish (although, to be fair, there was little of her minimal dialogue that I didn't understand), but she does her best acting non-verbally. Her sex scene with Farrell is moving, as we see tears in her eyes. Thereafter, we observe the previously icy exterior thaw. John Ortiz is okay as the chief antagonist, although he's hardly likely to challenge Alan Rickman or Dennis Hopper for a spot in the Villains' Hall of Fame.

There's a noticeable absence of red in Miami Vice, with blues being amplified. Contrast is low in many night scenes, with noticeable grain. Whether these stylistic choices benefit Miami Vice is open to debate, but they give the film a distinct look. In many ways, the movie has a dirtier, grittier feel than its TV counterpart. The '80s Miami Vice was pastels; the 2006 version is dark and at times almost monochromatic.

The best way to view this new Miami Vice is as something unconnected to its previous incarnation. That way, this version and the new interpretations of the actors can be allowed to stand on their own. As cop movies go, Miami Vice does interesting things with unoriginal material. This is to its credit - movies with more have failed, while this one succeeds on the basis of its fervor and immediacy. It's not the ultimate as either a cop movie or a TV adaptation, but it's better than average in both categories.

Miami Vice (United States, 2006)

Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li, Luis Tosar, Naomie Harris, John Ortiz, Barry Shabaka Henley, Ciaran Hinds
Screenplay: Michael Mann
Cinematography: Dion Beebe
Music: Klaus Badelt
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 2006-07-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1