Friday, August 04, 2006
Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)
The only similarity between the mid-‘80s series “Miami Vice” and its cinematic counterpart is the criticism-turned-credo “style over substance.” But whereas the TV show at least had sunny locales, hip music, and the pastel presences of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, Michael Mann’s re-imagined Miami Vice is mired in an incoherent plot, lifeless performances, and outrageous violence covering up for missing dramatic and thematic content.
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx take over the mantles of “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs with nary a wink or a smile. Never before has either actor been so patently glum or bored. Mann has had success in the past encircling his films around a dangerous, lone wolf figure stalking the modern urban jungle (James Cann in Thief, Robert DeNiro in Heat, Tom Cruise in Collateral), but neither Farrell nor Foxx have the dangerous charisma (or requisite three-dimensional characters) to pull this off. Half-baked girlfriend subplots involving Naomie Harris and Gong Li do nothing to elevate the two heroes above caricatures of cops whose work is their world. The love that blossoms between Farrell and Li especially strains credibility. Am I to believe that this beautiful and savvy businesswoman married to the boss of a Columbian cartel would then be wooed by a stubbly Irish-American thug?
Crockett and Tubbs eventually go undercover to catch the drug smugglers and investigate a mole in the crime squad (a plot thread that is never even resolved), and main villains Luis Tosar and John Ortiz breathe a bit of life into the proceedings. But their nefariousness is constantly undermined by wasted “emotional” scenes between Farrell and Li, and some muddled police procedure that leads to an absurd conclusion. For all of the far-fetched plot twists in Mann’s previous films, they were nearly always involving interesting characters and bravura action sequences. Vice delivers more violence than action, the splattering of red fluids being the only source of bright colors in the movie’s monochromatic world. Once Crockett and Tubbs’ fellow task force agents show up and prove to be handy marksmen, any tension as to the fate of our heroes quickly disappears. Most of Mann’s strengths (masculine characterizations, ferocious and exciting gunplay) become burdensome.
The only spark is provided by Dion Beebe’s HD digital cinematography. The high contrast that brought LA into light and shadow in Collateral turns Miami into a bustling backdrop of blue-gray. The camera searches and hunts for an interesting shot, whether or not that goal is reached. Valiant attempts to render the film compelling only on the surface are futile from the beginning. Hopefully Mann can let sleeping ‘80s cop shows lie and spend more time overcoming this artistic hurdle. I have complete faith he can do it.