review: miami vice
July 30, 2006
Forget Vegas. In director Michael Mann’s newest thriller, Miami is the new Sin City. With typical Mann flair, Miami Vice takes us from the glamorous, sun-soaked Miami beaches to the decrepit hideaways of Colombian drug smugglers and everywhere in between, selling each locale with extra helpings of grit and attitude. Along for the ride are stars Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell, reinventing the iconic characters Rico Tubbs and Sonny Crockett from the 1984 television series, on which Mr. Mann was executive producer.
Mr. Foxx is no stranger to the Mann school of storytelling, having appeared in the director’s 2004 film Collateral, yet he and Farrell seem strangely lost here among the palm trees. They strut and preen and speak their lines–what few there are–with gruff authority, but nothing leaves much of an impression. Frustratingly, the potential intrigue surrounding the eminently more watchable Mr. Foxx and his relationship with girlfriend Trudy (Naomie Harris) receives short shrift in favor of painfully extended romps through Havana with Farrell and and a soul-crushingly wooden Gong Li (as drug queen Isabella). In the screening I attended, the pair’s supposedly steamy shower scene played to snickers and hollering, surely not what Mr. Mann had in mind (I was bored to tears at that point).
These issues are largely the fault of the script, also a product of Mr. Mann’s imagining, which places far greater emphasis on crafting a believable and exciting version of Miami than on anything so dull as character and plot development. Mr. Mann forgets that Collateral worked so well because the dynamic interplay between Cruise and Foxx always took precedence over the director’s dazzling sense of cinematic composition. The large canvas of Miami and its environs seems to have distracted him here; we spend more time skimming through brilliantly blue water and gawking at Rico and Sonny’s Carrera GT–how do they afford such things?–as it zooms down the expressway than examining the “tough” life of a Miami cop.
The story itself is threadbare, focusing on Rico and Sonny’s infiltration of a Colombian drug cartel in hopes of rooting out a mole in one of several federal agencies. The setup lasts all of twenty or so minutes, after which there is little to do besides wait for things to (predictably) resolve themselves. The intervening time is spent admiring the scenery and wincing at the egregiously stereotypical villains. Tension, even during the climactic shootout, is severely lacking, given the absence of any real investment in the outcome. People die, often spectacularly, and the audience applauds, good guy or not.
In contrast with Collateral‘s pleasingly minimalist musical accompaniment, Miami Vice is peppered with wildly varying selections of popular music. Some, like the opening club number, are spot on, but the alternative rock song that plays over the aforementioned shower scene is so bizarrely inappropriate as to be comical. Disastrous choices like this only add to the tedium of this overlong study in the evocation of cool.
And cool it is: this movie has style. High-definition video has emerged as Mann and cinematographer Dion Beebe’s medium of choice, and their mastery of it is unquestioned. Jerky, handheld camera work does wonders for credibility. Few films approach its uncanny verisimilitude. Detail is impressive as well; the lurid colors of Miami nightclubs have never burned so intensely, and every thread in the weave of Mr. Farrell’s linen suit stands in sharp relief. Yes, the film really is breathtaking at times, but that’s all it is. There isn’t any more.
You may noticed that I have brought many comparisons between this film and Collateral; it was largely on the promise of that film that I elected to view this one, and my disappointment at the significant drop in quality I see in Miami Vice is not something I will soon forget. Self-indulgence is a sin, Mr. Mann.
–D. S. W.