The latest TV show-turned-movie to arrive in cinemas, MIAMI VICE is a lot like a top-of-the-line Ferrari with no engine: looks sharp, but you can't help but notice that it doesn't take you anywhere.That may be fitting considering the source material; after all, the show is chiefly remembered for epitomizing a certain style--suntanned '80s decadence--rather than anything that might be confused with substance. And working with a reported budget of $125 million, director Michael Mann certainly finds more than enough elbow room to indulge his fetish for snazzy visuals. There are some extremely striking compositions to be found here, particularly whenever the action strays outdoors; there is a fairly remarkable plane-in-the-clouds shot that almost had me reaching for the pause button on the remote. But Mann's technical acumen is all in service of a standard-issue drug-smuggling plot that plays like an episode of the TV show arbitrarily strung out to two-plus hours.
Mann's hit-the-ground-running approach allows him to start things off like the proverbial gangbusters, and he pulls out a couple sharp set pieces before the end credits roll; but he doesn't allow the audience feel at home with his two leads. It's a ruinous fault: Farrell and Foxx never come across as anything more than a pair of sexy-cool ciphers, typical stone-faced cops on a "mission." Just compare Foxx's flat performance here to his Oscar-nominated turn in COLLATERAL, and the difference is palpable. It would be tempting to explain the leads' obvious lack of chemistry by pointing to all those reports of on-set conflicts between the two, but Mann's script doesn't really give them half a chance. Instead of characterization, Mann offers sex scenes and steamy romps in the shower. You never get to know anyone terribly well, and so the romantic subplot (involving Farrell and the lovely Li Gong) lacks resonance.
The plot unfolds listlessly and monotonously, propelled at intervals by huge dollops of exposition that the director doesn't even seem to be trying to present in an interesting manner. There is far too much talking in half-darkened rooms, as if Mann were merely marking time between shoot-outs. It's all too clear he's more at home with the action sequences.
A few bright moments crop up that suggest the film that MIAMI VICE should have been: the grim monotony is occasionally broken up with flashes of tough-guy humor, as in a bit involving a dead man's switch that Mann turns into an uproarious variation on the classic scene from DIRTY HARRY.But for the most part all that swaggering Miami machismo isn't nearly as fun as it's supposed to be.