Half as nice.
Oh my goodness. This is wrong. This is just wrong. 2006 really is turning out to be a pants year for those of us who enjoy being shrouded in the darkness of our local multiplexes. We've been suspecting it since, well, January really, but now we have irrefutable proof in the form of Miami Vice because, ladies and gentleman, Michael Mann has let me down. Michael Mann has let us all down. America's only purveyor of consistently excellent mainstream thrillers has stumbled disastrously at a hurdle he himself helped to create, and it's proven to be the depressingly waxy seal on this summer's "Dear John" to the paying public.
The irony of this will no doubt be lost on most who choose to part with their dough in search of two hours of slam-bang thrills, for many below the age of thirty will find their recollection of the TV series, which Mann executive produced, hazy at best, nonexistent at worst. For those of us who spent far too many nights staying up late to watch it in our bedrooms when mum and dad went to sleep (half ten, BBC1, naughty boy!), the prospect of Mann returning to the series he helped put on the map as an icon of 80s cop drama proved more mouth watering than the prospect of oiling a bikini babe on Daytona Beach. Well, maybe not actually, but I digress. It came as a relief when we were promised that the 80s vibe would not be present, so rest assured rolled-up suit sleeves aren't going to be back in this summer, but it would appear that Mann has also forgotten to bring along the tension, chemistry and excitement that hallmarked the series too.
For the most part only the characters and setting remain the same, while everything else has been hauled kicking and screaming into the present. Colin Farrell fills Don Johnson's boots as James "Sonny" Crockett with Jamie Foxx taking on Philip Michael Thomas' role as Ricardo Tubbs. Fans of the series will be glad to hear the guys' backup also returns with Detectives Calabrese, Switek and Zito all in tow, while Det. Trudy Joplin is now also known as Mrs. Rico Tubbs. Castillo is also present and correct, although Barry Shabaka Henley is a thousand miles from good old Edward James Olmos in looks if not general consternation. Disappointment rears it's ugly head when we realise that Sonny no longer lives on a boat with his pet gator Elvis, but it'd be churlish to expect to get it all our own way.
The movie follows Crockett and Tubbs as they seek to "illuminate" the operations of drugs kingpin Arc?ngel de Jes?s Montoya (Luis Tozar) by posing as hi-tech couriers operating out of the Miami harbours (read: excuse for flash motor boats). Fortunately for the boys toys brigade Mann's script also calls for near instant teleportation between locations (read: excuse for fast cars), intercontinental dealings (read: excuse for flash planes) and the occasional shootout with white supremacist shit-stirrers (read: excuse for fifty calibre rifles and cutting edge sub-machine guns), so all in all the bling of the series manages to survive the timewarp nicely. Unfortunately Mann also includes a raft of clich?s that he should really know better how to avoid ("Man, there is undercover and then there is 'which way is up?'" etc. etc.), which make uneasy bedfellows with the cutting-edge aspirations of the director and his usual visionary genius.
There is also an unusually high quotient of what I like to call "Mann Designer Dialogue", which is to say everybody speaks a load of shit masquerading as cool wisdom. All of his movies save The Insider have suffered from it to some degree, and in small doses it's entirely tolerable. Here however it's likely that your immune system will take a beating from the toxic bollocks spouted by almost the entire cast. One scene in particular where Calabrese (Elizabeth Rodriguez) delivers a "Dirty Harry" speech to a soon-to-be-demised nazi is almost unbearably contrived, and it's nonsense like this that draws the viewer out of the moment, with Foxx in particular lumbered with some of the most inane dialogue I've laid ears on in some time. "Let's take it from the top, one more time" indeed. It worked for Pulp Fiction, but it aint got no place here, thank you very much.
There's absolutely nothing to write home about in terms of performance here either, with competent yet hardly startling turns from the entire cast. While each individual performance never threatens to sour the mix, the cumulative effect makes Miami Vice a surprisingly dull two-plus hours, an especially surprising stumble for Mann who has consistently coaxed screen grabbing performances from the likes of Al Pacino and William Petersen. On their day those fellas could have sustained any of their movies with a static head shot. It's bad enough that there seems to be a complete lack of chemistry in every relationship here, but it's downright inexcusable that there also happens to be a complete failure to generate any sense of history. With so little attention paid to fleshing out it's characters, Vice simply has to depend on familiarity with it's two leading men, and although their supposedly unique bond is hinted at in half-baked dialogue it's certainly never evidenced in action. Speaking of which, don't go holding your breath for Heat-level shoot-outs, as the only gunfight of significance here happens in the final reel and never comes close to threatening that movie's bank heist as a surround sound showcase.
In fact, at the end of the day, the only thing Miami Vice really has going for it of really positive note is the shot-on-digital hand held camera work which has carried over from Collateral, and even though it delivers some beautiful Miami Bay sunsets it still falls short of the previous movie's kinetic charm. All of which sounds rather negative, now that I review what I've written, but my disappointment stems not from complete failure so much as my astonishingly high expectations of the director and crew, if not cast. At the end of the day this is still a competent thriller, if an uninspiring one, and one suspects that more damage may be done to Mann's reputation than the audience members' bank accounts. I just wish that it had been a case of a good film poorly executed, rather than sitting here wondering what the hell he was hoping to achieve in the first place.
Jamie Foxxxxxxxx (Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs)
Li Gong (Isabella)