Miami Vice (2006) / Action-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language and some sexual content
Running Time: 128 min.

Cast: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li, John Ortiz, Luis Tosar, Naomie Harris, Barry Shabaka Henley, Ciaran Hinds, Justin Theroux, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Chris Astoyan
Director: Michael Mann
Screenplay: Michael Mann (based on the TV series created by Anthony Yerkovich)
Review published July 30, 2006

Michael Mann (Collateral, Ali) returns to the franchise that first brought him to prominence with Miami Vice, based on the wildly popular 1980s television show for which he served as executive producer.  While the events within each episode of the show were nothing revolutionary, it was the music video-style presentation that caught the eye of the critics and public alike, through the mix of sleek cinematography, elegant imagery, and moody music made by popular artists and top-shelf instrumental composers.  Although Mann did not create the show, the style of it would set the trend for all Mann projects to follow, both as a producer and director.  If Mann's name is in the credits, you know you're going to be absorbed in a story told through images and atmosphere more so than intricate plotting and characterizations. 

While his style sometimes frustrates those viewers looking for characters they can relate to and plots that develop in naturalistic fashion, the intrinsically beautiful way in which Mann forms his stories, through the use of gloomy, sumptuous visuals and impeccable music selection, offers enough feeling of depth and beauty to overcome the sparseness of the dialogue.  Most of Mann's projects are in the action/crime/thriller genre, which usually isn't the type of thing you'd generally want to throw in slow-developing, sullen moments of moody reflections.  However, it is in these moments that Mann shows himself a master craftsman of emotion, allowing purist filmmaking techniques, such as camerawork and scoring, to be the predominant influencers of the overall piece, instead of merely enhancers, as they would be in the execution by most other directors. 

Although earlier seasons of "Miami Vice" were a bit lighter and more conventional cop fare, the series developed a dark, serious vibe over the last few seasons that gave the show a grittier, noir-sih feel.  It is in the spirit of these more mature later seasons that Mann draws inspiration from, albeit in a much darker incarnation, allowing the cold, bleak atmosphere to overwhelm the daily activities of the police officers, full of introverted characters that say more with a look or gesture than they ever do through oral communication.  These characters are often shown as morose or lost in thought, rarely expressing outward emotions or engaging in bouts of jovial frivolity.

The names and occupations are the same in this movie adaptation, but with the exception of Mann's style and some minor references through bits of previously-used dialogue, Miami Vice is a standalone film.  Colin Farrell (SWAT, Daredevil) and Jamie Foxx (Jarhead, Stealth) play undercover vice detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, whose latest assignment has them taking over part of a federal investigation into the activities of a major narcotics trafficking operation run by the ruthless kingpin Arcangel de Jesus Montoya (Tosar, Mondays in the Sun) and his business partner/lover, Isabella (Li, Memoirs of a Geisha).  Despite trying to crack the operation wide open, Crockett finds Isabella alluring, entering into a side relationship that just might compromise his ability to stay focused on the case at hand.

With the scant qualities of the character development and the sometimes confusing plot cohesion, Miami Vice is the kind of movie one can only admire for the way that Mann is able to reel us in without giving us any real sense of just who these men really are and why they do what they do.  Although there are certain events in which we get to see the men as more than just one-dimensional characters, by the end of the film we realize they are just as enigmatic as they were in the beginning, as we rarely are afforded a glimpse into just what makes them tick, other than external suppositions.  In this regard, I suppose it is in keeping with the nature of the television show, in which the characters were portrayed more for their professional interactions than in times where they "let their hair down" and became just your average guy in the street.  We never could imagine Crockett or Tubbs doing mundane activities like grocery shopping or sitting in front of the television enjoying a sitcom,  The only rooting interest in their stories lies completely with what they represent due to their occupations.  That's not to knock Miami Vice for skimping on story, as the film is increasingly entertaining and absorbing as the main plot begins to solidify into something more tangible and personal.

Miami Vice has some substantial weaknesses, such as the aforementioned lack of character development and the lengthy running time for the kind of film that it is.   The lack of references to the original television show may also disappoint some of the more hardcore fans, especially once they realize that the Crockett and Tubbs of the film differ substantially from their small screen counterparts.  With a film like this, perhaps it's best to not draw comparisons and just enjoy it on its own terms.  If you can do that, you'll be rewarded with a sumptuously visual mood piece with solid actors, gripping action, and a fantastic soundtrack.  Mann's thin script may rightfully be deemed as, in its more derogatory meaning, prosaic, but through his legendary abilities to fuse sights and sounds to create feeling, his direction is the epitome of poetry in motion.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo