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Miami Vice
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Mann Does It Again"
5 stars

When people think of the television series “Miami Vice,” their memories tend to focus on the various elements of the show that may have seemed like good ideas during its 1984-89 run but which now come across as fairly embarrassing–the notion of wearing white linen suits with pastel T-shirts and shoes without socks, the notion of Phil Collins as an actor and the notion of Philip Michael Thomas period. However, if you actually go back and check out some of the episodes–especially ones from its first two groundbreaking seasons, when it really was one of the best things on the tube–you will notice that it was a show that had a lot more going for it than a splashy visual style and a hip music soundtrack. Unlike most other cop shows of the time, it told gritty and no-nonsense tales featuring dangerous criminals and obsessed cops working in an atmosphere where the lines between good and bad were blurry and there was no guarantee that the righteous would completely prevail at the end of the hour. In bringing “Miami Vice” to the big screen, Michael Mann (who served as an executive producer on the show, especially during those first two seasons) has wisely chosen to focus on that aspect of the show and the result is a brilliant, no-nonsense cop drama that is easily the best adult-oriented entertainment to hit the multiplexes this summer.

After a major undercover sting operation focusing on a group of drug-dealing white supremacists goes violently wrong, Miami-Dade cops Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are recruited by an FBI agent (Ciaran Hinds) to go undercover themselves as hotshot drug couriers in order to find out who is supplying the supremacists with both drugs and information. Before long, the two find themselves in Haiti dealing with international drug kingpin Montoya (Luis Tosar) and are convincing enough to get a once-in-a-lifetime look at the inner workings of his business. One complication is the presence of Yero (John Ortiz), Montoya’s ambitious middleman and someone who is convinced that these newcomers are simply too good to be true. Another, more attractive complication, comes in the form of Isabella (Gong Li), Montoya’s sexy partner/girlfriend who can be chillingly businesslike at one moment and eager to hop off to Cuba with Crockett for mojitos and an entirely different type of undercover work. Crockett is instantly besotted with her, leading to the possibility that he may fall victim to a lapse of judgement that can be fatal in the world of deep undercover work.

Granted, this is not exactly an earth-shatteringly original plot–it could have easily served as an episode of the original series (stripped of the nudity, profanity and graphic violence, of course)–and Mann is clearly aware of that. What he is more interested in doing–what he has made a point of doing throughout all of his crime-oriented films (including “Thief,” “Manhunter” and “Heat”)–is taking the standard premises of the genre and exploring them in minute detail in order to see what makes them tick. As a result, there is an authenticity to the proceedings that you can genuinely feel throughout–you feel the mixed emotions of Crockett as he finds himself becoming increasingly enthralled with a woman even though he knows that she could literally be the death of him and you also get a sense of the tension and adrenaline (not to mention a little fear) coursing through the veins of people who voluntarily walk into situations in which there is serious doubt as to their survival. For those going into “Miami Vice” expecting some kind of campy throwback, the intensity might come as a shock and, unlike so many theatrical versions of old television shows, this might be the first such film where newcomers may wind up appreciating it more than fans of the original show.

Another aspect of the film that may surprise some viewers is the relative lack of slam-bang action scenes to be had. By my count, there are only three such sequences–an extended opening bit that Crockett and Tubbs only gradually become drawn into, a raid on a group of supremacists holed up in a trailer park to rescue a kidnapped fellow cop (Naomie Harris) and a hellacious climactic firefight. However, Mann is less concerned in presenting one viscerally thrilling set-piece after another–even though there is no one out there working today who is currently his equal at staging such moments (such as the centerpiece heist of “Heat” or the Iron Butterfly-scored climax of “Manhunter”)–as he is in presenting only a couple of them and making them count. The opening bit, with its multiple locations, numerous character introductions and gradually unfolding plot, is a small masterpiece of telling a story almost purely through visual means. The trailer park sequence is equally impressive in the way that it slowly ramps up the tension while milking a severely confined location for maximum impact (and featuring the single best moment of the film to boot). And while the final shoot-out is as beautifully choreographed and executed as you might expect–despite the wildly unfolding action, we always have a clean grasp throughout of where everyone is in relation to everyone else–the real fireworks come from the moment when Isabella discovers the truth behind Crockett and how she reacts to it.

In his previous films, Mann has gotten revelatory performances from actors as varied as James Caan (“Thief”), William H. Petersen (“Manhunter”), Ashley Judd (“Heat”), Will Smith (“Ali”) and Tom Cruise (“Collateral”) and while the contributions from his three leads here may not approach those heights, there are some interesting and impressive turns nevertheless. Slipping into Don Johnson’s loafers, Colin Farrell is far more convincing as Crockett than you might imagine–with his slightly gone-to-seed look (thanks mostly to his scraggly facial hair) and wired-up intensity, he all but burns a hole in the screen throughout with his most successful display of on-screen charisma to date. As his dangerous liaison, Gong Li may be obviously hampered by her less-than-sure grasp of the English language but she more than matches up with Farrell in terms of smoldering on-screen sexuality while still maintaining the kind of cool veneer that never lets you forget what a threat she could become if crossed. Fans of Jamie Foxx may be surprised by his relatively limited screen time–he is off-screen for much of the middle stretch–but he makes the most of his appearance as well, especially in his moments with on-screen squeeze Harris (whom you may recognize–perhaps not at first–as the weirdo fortune teller in “Dead Man’s Chest”).

“Miami Vice” may not be a landmark crime film in the manner of Mann’s masterpiece “Heat”–though you could say that about virtually every other such film to appear since that one came out–and it does have a couple of flaws here and there. The field trip to Cuba between Crockett and Isabella is nice enough but it eventually goes on a little too long for its own good. The two major villains–Yero and Montoya–lack the kind of fire that you might expect, possibly because the actors playing them don’t have the same visceral impact as the other major characters. And for a film based on a television show celebrated in part because of the inventive way in which it utilized music as a method of telling the story, the musical score by John Murphy is surprisingly undistinguished. (No, we don’t hear Jan Hammer’s distinctive theme song but we are “treated” to a lame cover version of “In the Air Tonight” over the end credits–an ill-advised homage that Mann should have junked altogether.)

Those quibbles aside, “Miami Vice” is the kind of gritty urban thriller that used to be a mainstay back in the days when Hollywood catered to adults instead of aiming virtually everything at 14-year-old boys. From start to finish, it is alive in a way that few blockbusters are these days–it looks astonishing, thanks to the startling digital-video cinematography by Dion Beebe that pushes the boundaries of the format even beyond what he and Mann accomplished in “Collateral,” it contains some great hard-boiled dialogue (“He wants to front them with silver and pay them in lead.”) and it crackles with an energy that even the most jaded moviegoers will find themselves instantly responding to. This is not just the best of the summer blockbusters–it is the only one that I can think off that could be described as a genuine work of popular art with a straight face.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14888&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/28/06 00:11:53
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User Comments

6/30/09 pantera michael mann sucks 1 stars
6/14/09 Jeff Wilder Can't say I "enjoyed" it. But it's one film I'll never forget. 3 stars
6/13/09 JR If this were made first, there never would have been a tv series. Crap. 1 stars
9/29/08 Jukebox Heroe Mumbling fast a new language? Soundtrack pathetic. turn off ur brain 4 this. 1 stars
8/20/08 Shaun Wallner Ugg boring!! 1 stars
6/24/08 dan halberg Probably would have been better if it was set in the 80's. 2 stars
7/24/07 Amy Boring, stupid, poorly filmed gibberish 1 stars
7/24/07 hoppy rob gonsalves review of this film says it perfectly. Where's the personality? 2 stars
7/21/07 ben dover very underated slick and stylish 4 stars
6/05/07 David Pollastrini bad series, worse movie 1 stars
4/12/07 Johnnyfog If I wanted to watch "Heat", I'd just rent it again 1 stars
2/22/07 Matt Another TV show hits the big screen like a lump of dog turd. Absolute rubbish. 1 stars
1/21/07 Indrid Cold If there was any magic and chemistry in the show, this sure doesn't capture it. 3 stars
1/13/07 Xavier Can't understand a fucking word of dialogue. No chemistry. The worst from Mann, ever. 1 stars
1/03/07 mr jackson piece of shit, i turned it off, would look bad even as saturday afternoon entertainment 1 stars
1/01/07 Joe Dull, cliched plot. Minimal action. Zero in common w/show except Crockett & Tubbs. It sucks 2 stars
12/27/06 Brutus A complete failure from pretentious Mann 1 stars
10/30/06 Adam Best action movie since the 80's, Snobs will overanalyze. Better than "The Departed" 5 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Sparse action undermined by plodding plot. Sex and staring at sunsets not that compelling. 2 stars
10/12/06 spacecowboy it movie retains the spirit of the original. any fan of the original would recognize that. 5 stars
9/12/06 Agent Sands The Ben-Hur or Spartacus of cop films. 4 stars
8/29/06 Nick not even worth this comment! 1 stars
8/28/06 Frenzy Not as bad as I others say 3 stars
8/26/06 Captain Craig Only proves if you take a shower with someone nothing bad will happen to you. Ugh! 1 stars
8/23/06 jake a shoolboy could have come up with a better plot. CRAP characters no substance or story 1 stars
8/22/06 MP Bartley A terse, adult, slow burning thriller. 4 stars
8/13/06 Marty mann whipped up some action, but boy was this movie dull. foxx - wasted 2 stars
8/10/06 michael long live the 80's when they knew how to make good movies 4 stars
8/09/06 Me You're all clowns 5 stars
8/08/06 Elizabeth S A big disappointment from Mann; intended gritty night scenes are UGLY 2 stars
8/08/06 Mansi Dido Okay. But not a patch on the original Crockett and Tubbs - now they REALLY had style. 3 stars
8/07/06 JLo Should have cast Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas 1 stars
8/06/06 Erik Van Sant Boring. Confusing. Forgettable. Haven't seen this many 'shower scenes' since 'Top Gun'. 1 stars
8/05/06 millersxing Michael Mann's Vice City: it's a sexy, glamorous, and dangerous underworld. 5 stars
8/03/06 Andrew The only thing great about it is how it looks, and for 135 million it sure as hell should 2 stars
8/02/06 JJ The movie guy said "Good luck with that." when I bought my ticket... 2 stars
8/01/06 Agent Sands Very enjoyable and grandiose. The Ben-Hur or Magnolia or Good, Bad and Ugly of cop films. 5 stars
7/31/06 The Man Mann Rankings: Last of Mohicans, Insider, Heat, Miami Vice, Collateral, all awesome 5 stars
7/31/06 MRM Not enough car/boat chase, HEAT had more violence, no awards here 2 stars
7/31/06 J wow i couldnt believe how bad this movie was...the audience started BOOING at the end 1 stars
7/31/06 jcjs fun, nice innuendos, great acting, visually sweet, bang bang nice, worked for me, pleased 5 stars
7/30/06 Peter Smith Lame, over-hyped 2 stars
7/30/06 Ole Man Bourbon Some really great Mann-esque touches, but also much stupid, silly, pointless crap 3 stars
7/29/06 great colin farrell was masterful in this potenial oscar worthy film 5 stars
7/29/06 Troy M. Grzych One of the worst films I've seen...ever. I had to struggle to make myself stay and finish 1 stars
7/28/06 ahnold Pure SHIT. No plot. No dialogue for actors. Just visuals. OVER-HYPED 1 stars
7/28/06 Colt Cool! GTA: VICE CITY - THE MOVIE!!!!! Oh, and MANHUNTER sucked donkey balls... 1 stars
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  28-Jul-2006 (R)
  DVD: 05-Dec-2006



Directed by
  Michael Mann

Written by
  Michael Mann

  Jamie Foxx
  Colin Farrell
  Gong Li
  Naomie Harris
  Ciarán Hinds
  Justin Theroux

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