Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Miami Vice

Title: Miami Vice (2006)
Dir: Michael Mann
Rating: ** and 1/2 out of 5 stars

For The Diamondback...

After failures like Bewitched and The Dukes of Hazzard, the last thing Hollywood needs is another retro-TV remake. But when word spread that Michael Mann (Collateral) would be directing a “Miami Vice” movie, there was hope. For one thing, Mann himself served as executive producer on the 1980s series and is credited with giving the show its memorable style. Since then, Mann has also proved himself a skilled director of both drama (The Insider) and action (Heat). Given these prospects, it is all the more disappointing that Miami Vice is cheesy and boring.

In the film adaptation, we find detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell, S.W.A.T.) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx, Jarhead) going undercover as drug smugglers in order to take on a Miami trafficking network. With false identities and a lot of confidence, the duo transports narcotics for mysterious drug lord Arcángel de Jesús Montoya. As they are drawn deeper into this dangerous world, Sonny falls for Montoya’s partner-in-crime, Isabella (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha). Needless to say, the situation only becomes more perilous as tensions rise, trust is broken, and new enemies are made.

If you think that plot sounds like a Bad Boys film, you are right. The Miami-based drug cartel narrative has been beat to death since the days of Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Unfortunately, Vice brings nothing new to the genre.

The dialogue ranges between pointless and outright silly. Perhaps it is loyal to the cheese of the original series, but those old writers had an excuse – it was the 80s, after all. Back then, Don Johnson wore white blazers and no socks with his loafers, so bad dialogue was a moot point. But for a 2006 Michael Mann film, there is no excuse.

Farrell and Foxx, both competent actors, completely lack chemistry in this film. Furthermore, their individual performances come across badly, even though movies like Tigerland and Ray have respectively proven their talents in the past. Should we blame Farrell’s ridiculous haircut in this movie? Perhaps. The rest of the characters also seem drab, with the exception of drug dealer Jose Yero, played by John Ortiz. He’s a slimy villain with more sense of humor than the rest of the film combined.

So what about Mann’s directing? He turns away from the flashy pastel colors of the 80s and adopts a dark, gritty style here. This decision was a wise one, since nothing kills a movie faster than trying to bring back a long-dead trend. What gave Miami Vice such great potential was this more realistic modernization of Crockett and Tubbs. It would have worked great, too, if only the movie provided some solid action.

The pacing is very slow and the action scenes are few and far-between. As soon as something exciting happens, the director likes to cut away. It provides an interesting sense of realism, but makes for one boring film. However, when the action finally kicks in, there is some excitement to be had. Mann’s gunfight scenes are intense and unexpectedly violent. Like watching the opening beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, the shootouts in Vice involve deafeningly loud gunfire, sprays of blood, and a gritty look thanks to a handheld camera.

Unfortunately, these few moments of excitement are not enough to save the film from its tedious length and a script that could have been pulled right from a 80s made-for-TV movie. Mann’s directing is sub-par, but honestly the movie would have been much worse without him. Farrell and Foxx were inspired casting choices but just can’t achieve that classic buddy-cop chemistry.

Just about everybody involved in Miami Vice has done great work in the past, so the drabness of this film is both puzzling and disappointing. Perhaps the take-home lesson from all this is: If something was popular in the days of leg warmers and rubix cubes, maybe it shouldn’t be resurrected.