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"Hits on notes lower than the Smuggler's blues."
"The film might just as well be called 'San Diego Vice.'"
"A film that you want to love and just can't."
Miami Vice  

Cast

Ricardo Tubbs: Jamie Foxx
Sonny Crockett: Colin Farrell
Isabella: Gong Li
Trudy Joplin: Naomie Harris
Agent Fujima: Ciaran Hinds
Jose Yero: John Ortiz
Review August 2006

The flamboyant Armani suits. The Ferrari Testarossas. The pink flamingos and nightlife of South Beach. "Miami Vice" was one of the quintessential cop shows of the 80's, distinguished not only for its rich pastel color and GQ style, but for its edgy center - namely, undercover cops breaking up countless cocaine cartels. Now, years later, Michael Mann's influential series is re-imagined, but noticeably darker. Starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as the central Dade county coppers, Ricardo Tubbs and Sonny Crockett, this "Miami Vice" borrows a page from the past, following Crockett and Tubbs deep undercover while in pursuit of a drug kingpin. There are love interests, gun battles, high-speed chases, and complex drug networks. But surprisingly, there is very little Miami. Even more so, the allure or essentials of the original show just aren't there - the testosterone fueled music, the smooth and quick MTV style of editing, and the use of colorful imagery to emphasize emotional undercurrent. Without them, this "Miami Vice" hits on notes lower than the Smuggler's blues.

In the midst of an undercover operation, Crockett and Tubbs discover that there is a mole in the Miami-Dade agency, responsible for the deaths of several federal agents and an informer's family. Digging deeper, they make a connection to a group of Aryan Brotherhood killers and an international drug trafficking operation headed by the notorious Arcangel de Jesus Montoya. In an effort to get inside and destroy the network, Crockett and Tubbs pose as powerboat racers, volunteering their services and skills to help smuggle drugs into the States for Montoya. After careful scrutiny by Montoya's front man, Jose Yero, the two are given a test, one that takes them from the familiar skyline of Miami to the shores of Cuba and Haiti, and into some of the most dangerous places in the world, without any protection.

Of course, there are many complications with this endeavor. For starters, Crockett begins a flirtatious relationship with Montoya's girlfriend and financial extraordinaire, Isabella. And Tubbs' love interest, Bronx-born intelligence analyst Trudy, is kidnapped in the middle of a crucial delivery. Then, making matters worse, Yero has it in for the undercover agents, attempting to sabotage their shipments and kill them in the process. But for Crockett and Tubbs, it's just another day on the Miami Vice squad. The kind of days when lines are often crossed, fake identities are aplenty, and the difference between good and bad is a hazy gray. Or as Tubbs says to Crockett, 'There's undercover, and then there's which way is up?'"

From 1984 to 1989, "Miami Vice" reshaped the pop culture landscape and redefined the cop television genre with cool clothes, Caribbean colors, and bluesy, percussive music. Set to the tone of Jan Hammer's pulsating theme, the series helped make stars out of its undercover duo of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. Not to mention Edward James Olmos, who won an Emmy for his portrayal as the calculated Lieutenant Castillo. Under the guidance of executive producer, Michael Mann, the series explored the secret lives of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, as they battled against narcotics, prostitution, and firearms deals. But it was the emphasis on ethical dilemmas where the show hit its stride, as Crockett and Tubbs routinely blurred the lines of morality. Because of its unabashed, provocative nature and expressive style, "Miami Vice" instantly became the standard for which many future television series such as "NYPD Blue" or "CSI" would continue to aspire.

Moving from the executive producer to the director chair, Michael Mann re-envisions a new "Miami Vice" for the big screen, one without color, flair, or sophistication. And one that follows more closely to the raw and gritty style of his previous work, "Collateral." In "Collateral," Mann, along with cinematographer Dion Beebe, helped pioneer the usage of high definition filmmaking. And for "Miami Vice," Mann and Beebe reunite to capture the same visual look and feel, opting to shoot on location to create a more naturalistic and authentic atmosphere, while avoiding the traps of green screen technology and cheaper locales. Of course, the high definition handiwork is more contemporary, but the overall vision has remained a part of Mann's own personal style of filmmaking. From 1981's "Thief" about a professional jewel heist to the raw romantic retelling of James Fennimore Cooper's classic, "Last of the Mohicans," to the grittier crime and political potboilers, "Heat" and "The Insider."

However, the problem with a grittier direction for "Miami Vice" is that it ignores the elements that made the series so successful in the first place. Namely, the preferences for style over substance, visual technique over story, and music over dialogue. The latter of which is a highly disappointing drawback, as the film is almost completely lacking in popular music or music segments. After all, the original "Vice" was pitched as MTV Cops while targeting a young Generation X audience. And the series knew its audience, paying tribute, with remarkable segments as Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues," Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," and Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." These songs highlighted the emotional current and set the mood for each episode. But sadly, the film's trailer creates more of a mood with music than the actual film.

Another miss with "Miami Vice" is the absence of Miami from the story. Sure, Miami has changed a lot from the 80's to the present. And yes, there are scenes that "transpire" in Miami. But because of the grainy camera work and the fact that much of the story takes place at night, it's difficult to visualize or establish the city as a setting. In the original series, Miami had a distinctive look, a distinctive sound, and was a main character in the story. But the Miami depicted in the film is one devoid of any tropical nuance. There are no pastel cityscapes, sun baked roller bladers, beach houses, surf seekers, or palm trees. And the film spends more time going back and forth to Haiti, Cuba, and Paraguay than it does in Miami proper. Thus, without nary a cultural reference to Miami or a single landmark, the film might just as well be called "San Diego Vice."

On the outset, the casting seemed solid on paper. Colin Farrell, as the charismatic Sonny Crockett and Jami Foxx as the street smart Ricardo Tubbs. But in execution, things are vastly uneven and comprehension is extremely difficult as the plot leans toward complexity and the dialogue toward obtuseness. Then, when language barriers are involved, such as the sequences with Colin Farrell, an Irish native, and Gong Li, a China native, there is an insurmountable amount of disconnect or washout. Much of this is a result of a script that elects to keep its characters at a distance, especially Jamie Foxx's Rico, who is so rich and sophisticated, yet given so little. And even though the script does take advantage of its 'R' rating to explore the more sensual and violent side of the vice squaders, it never takes the time to visit the end results, where Crockett and Tubbs re-integrate with reality.

A bit of a letdown, "Miami Vice" is a film that you want to love and just can't. You want it to be good, you want it to be nostalgic, and you expect it to be modernized. But what you don't expect is a film that dismisses almost every tangible and distinctive characteristic of its predecessor's success. Gone are the flamboyant colors, the moody music, and the Miami heat. And in exchange, there's nothing new, from generic story to gritty visuals - a disappointment to the film's core audience, who grew up watching and loving the original. Like so many other television to film re-imaginings, this is a recipe for disaster. Or, as Glen Frey once sang, "I'm sorry it went down like this, and someone had to lose. It's the nature of the business, it's the smuggler's blues."



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