dir: Michael Mann
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The world was crying out for a film version of Miami Vice the way that the world was crying out for a remake of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Mind Your Language or Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Yet, here it is, and here we are again, staring down the barrel of yet another review for a film that really shouldn’t exist.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Michael Mann is a wonderful director, and the film is competently and professionally well made. But it just doesn’t matter. I’ve had more heated experiences chatting to tombstones at the Carlton cemetery in a drunken stupor. Me, not the tombstones, though they were probably stoned (insert canned laughter here).
Some reviewers have had the temerity to say the film has nothing to do with the original series. I can only guess that these reviewers never watched that pastel and neon suffused series, and don’t really know what they’re talking about.
Apart from the grainy cinematography, this could virtually be a two hour version of a Miami Vice episode. The script for the film is lifted from an early first season episode. The only major difference is that there is plenty more swearing, violence and fucking than they ever could have shown on the telly.
Sweet, tender fucking. Not actual fucking of course. But, you know, it’s something different.
Other than that, though all the actors are obviously different, it’s virtually the same. Cold, serious, grim in tone, you feel like you’re watching cold professionals going about their profession in a cold, professional manner.
Michael Mann does love professionals. Whether cops or criminals, he loves depicting them as cool, level headed experts at what they do until some kind of variable element (usually women) intrude and stuff everything up. It’s their work, their job, and the keen edge of machismo that comes through in his films arises from the manner in which men are defined by their work. Their identity comes from what they do and how they do it. Vice is the latest incarnation of that, but Collateral, Heat, The Insider, Manhunter, Thief – they all tread the same well-trodden Mannian path.
Look, the tv show 20 years ago was a bit of a joke, and rightly so. It’s appropriate that the movie adaptation try to distinguish itself by playing it completely straight and avoiding the path that would result in another Starsky and Hutch or Dukes of Hazzard. Yee-har indeed.
The series has a criminal record a mile long. It popularised those awful looks where: men wear light coloured or pastel suits with the sleeves rolled up, men wear suit coats over t-shirts, men wear loafers without socks, anyone wears sunglasses at night, and a whole host of other fashion atrocities in a decade infamous for them.
It also differentiated itself both in content and style. The content avoided the cliché line of cop shows whose main purpose was to convince the plebs watching that the cops are firmly in control of society. Avoiding that propagandistic legitimation purpose, it focussed mostly on noble America’s War on Drugs. Miami, shown as the crucial nexus point betwixt the evil Caribbean, Central and South American countries and the inflow of product into the ravenous, consumerist paradise of the States, set the exotic stage for the adventures of detectives Crockett and Tubbs in their never-ending battle against the scourge of drugs.
The overall theme of the series ultimately became the fact that decent, honest cops such as the two protagonists, could not, in fact, win the war or even make that much of a dent in it. The vast sums of money involved, the corruption within law enforcement in the States, and the teeming masses lining up to import product to cater to the US’s insatiable demand rendered their lawful crusade an exercise in futility.
Few cop shows, with or without constant saxophone solos or special guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Phil Collins or Miles Davis, ever admitted such a thing. Despite the fact that this film was released in 2006, the flick doesn’t bother extending or even elaborating upon this message. Same message, different millennium.
Calling it a message is perhaps going too far. The flick is utterly devoid of messages, themes, character arcs, or much of interest outside of watching a competent bunch of people competently do what they do. That lack of interesting themes or ideas is what ultimately renders this flick so pointless.
I think the correct word to sum it up is ‘meh’. It is very meh, though well-made meh.
Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jaime Foxx) still work tirelessly in their attempts to stem the flow of drugs into the United States. They still work undercover posing as operators in the drug underworld in order to go after the big fish. They are dragged into a complex situation involving the FBI, White supremacist drug dealers, and a Columbian drug cartel.
So they go undercover. And they pursue the evil doers. And adventures ensue. And some sexy results. Then some violence occurs every now and then, especially at the end. Then the flick ends, and you walk out of the cinema as entertained or even less than when you walked into the theatre.
Speaking of walking out, I watched this film in a cinema with about 50 – 60 people. It would not be an exaggeration to say that about 15 of them walked out and did not return about an hour into it. It’s not because anything rough happened onscreen. It’s because they were bored.
The movie doesn’t go out of its way to be particularly entertaining. Dialogue is mostly functional, with people speaking solely in the language of their business, whether it be crim speak or law enforcement, often with us none the wiser as to what they’re talking about whilst still getting the vague gist.
Speaking of vague gists, I cannot for the life of me work out what Gong Li is doing in this film. The famous Chinese beauty, who made her name with Raise the Red Lantern and some of the other films by Zhang Yimou, is glaringly out of place in this flick. Apart from her ability to maintain a single expression on her immobile mask of a face, I couldn’t really work out why someone thought she’d be appropriate or even remotely effective in the role. I hate to sound so sexist, but I really wonder who she’s sleeping with. And though her role is hardly that important, she does a pretty craptacular job.
Jaime Foxx, who seems to have disappeared up his own arse since winning an Oscar, is pretty sedate, but okay. Colin Farrell is the only one who seems to enjoy his role, and he probably gets the most screen time, so I guess he does a decent enough job.
But it all feels fairly generic, nothing new or special. The competent cinematography by Dion Beebe never really enhanced anything to the point where I forgot how distracting the grain of the digital video footage looked. I can’t see that it improves anything to make it look like it was filmed with a webcam. Also, since I thought one of the primary advantages of filming with such a format was cost, it’s confusing to see that a flick as empty and generic as this still cost $135 million to make.
As for the seemingly convoluted plot, I never really cared nor was I remotely surprised by the outcome. The flick is all plot, no story, though that shouldn’t detract from how well many of the sequences are carried out. A raid on a trailer park meth lab to save someone’s life is particularly well done. In fact, all of it is well done, it’s just not that interesting. And at over two hours, it definitely drags a whole hell of a lot. I also suspect, considering the lost threads abandoned later in the film, that Michael Mann probably has a three hour version just gagging to come out on DVD.
This flick is definitely not recommended to anyone, though it’s extremely well done. Aren’t I just a complete enigma of a human being?
5 days of beard stubble rendered fashionable by an all style no substance television show out of 10
“Smooth. That's how we do it.” – well, it works for peanut butter, I guess, Miami Vice.