Miami Vice

I didn’t speak to a single person who didn’t groan in the lead-up to the release of Miami Vice, Michael Mann’s updating of the seminal cop show he worked on in the 80s. ‘Yet another TV remake, and this one has Colin Farrell’, was the familiar refrain. I too have been deploring Hollywood’s mining of old and usually mediocre TV shows to strip and recast for a quick buck, but this seemed different. It was Michael Mann after all, a stellar director of urban crime dramas; Heat, Collateral, and The Insider are all terrific films with a propulsive but haunting style. I saw this project as merely using the Miami Vice name to tell a great story about the effect of undercover policing on identity. Granted, I wished that the crutch of the Miami Vice title could be jettisoned, but that was a small thing.

The problem is that Michael Mann went and surprised most of us by making an interminably dull movie. I still can’t quite believe I have to write that. Mann’s films are epic and riveting, but Miami Vice is sabotaged by a disastrously boring middle act that’s hampered by slight and uninvolving characterisation. It’s fascinating that Colin Farrell could make such an impression in Terrence Malick’s The New World, but in a similarly stoic role here he’s utterly devoid of interest. Jamie Foxx doesn’t fare much better though, despite being so engaging in Mann’s Collateral. These are just underwritten characters and the movie collapses as a result.

The film version starts very promisingly, dropping us in the middle of a nightclub operation that is interrupted by a frantic phone call from an informant (John Hawkes) in a case they considered closed who screams that he needs protection. The details are aggressively assembled for us as Crockett (Farrell) and Tubbs (Foxx) try to reconcile their knowledge of the case with this powerful new development. This portion of the script is thrilling but inexplicably gives way to a slower pace that would be perfectly acceptable if the principal characters spouted anything but macho or self-righteous platitudes and exhibited any subtleties to engage our sympathies. As their new undercover operation begins, Crockett quickly seduces Isabella (Gong Li), a businesswoman at the upper levels of this drug operation. Gong Li is just marvellous in her work with Zhang Yimou and Wong Kar-Wai, so I feel terrible pointing out that her English is sadly not strong enough for that engaging acting ability to shine through. However, the script and a lack of chemistry with Farrell don’t help her either. Her partners make a malevolent impression, but the narrative is stalled in business negotiations of all things and they’re unable to help the narrative along or create any dynamite scenes.

The film gets cracking again at the start of the third act with a kidnapping by neo-Nazis. It’s unfortunate that it takes such a plot device to make Miami Vice thrilling, but that’s the truth of it. The climax is as exciting as can be expected given the lack of investment in the characters, but it’s too little too late. The film didn’t need to be a thrill ride. The midsection could be tremendous and offbeat if the characters could only support it, and not even Mann’s addictive visual style can compensate. Dion Beebe’s digital-video photography is fascinating to look at though, creating an intimacy through the technology’s inherent lack of polish and artifice and lending a new take on Mann’s trademark cityscapes.

But visual style has to be seriously staggering to overcome a lacklustre script, a flaw all the more notable in how it wastes terrific supporting actors like Naomie Harris and Justin Theroux. I’ll still await Mann’s next film with relish, but this is a major misstep. And the question still remains: why update Miami Vice anyway? The film bears little resemblance to the original and smacks of relying on nostalgic brand recognition. Even with names like Mann attached, TV adaptations are clearly a tough nut to crack whether artistry is the goal or not.

4 thoughts on “Miami Vice

  1. Theeph says:

    I wish someone could shed some light on why the “becashed” people insist on grave digging when there are a wealth of writers gagging to put new material out on screen.Hell, give me an eigth of what writers are paid now and I’ll cough up something in a weekend that’ll do.Are audiences so shallow that… actually forget it. They are.That is (paradoxically?) one of the reasons I have such high hopes for Jericho. Because if I was going to try my hand at a TV series, and I was faced with the veritable killing fields of cancelled shows that are out there, I’d think up a cool idea and then wrap it in as many cliches as possible until people were hooked. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, if you want another cliche.Jamie Foxx kinda gives me the irits though. He was great in Collateral, but having seen trailers for MV, and having seen him in Stealth… I have a feeling it was akin to the reaction people had to Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.(Wow! He’s so great at playing an emotionless robot!! Lets try him out in something else… oops)Anyway. Good review – it’s longest I’ll spend with Miami Vice, and the most enjoyment I’ll get out of it, methinks.

  2. Jack Reed says:

    That’s true – it’s bad enough that studios are digging up properties and assigning music video directors to reanimate them as films, but it’s much worse when quality directors pursue doddering or perfectly fine classic material themselves (eg: the Coen Brothers and The Ladykillers, Tim Burton and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)And that’s a solid theory for Jericho – it’s worked so well for Lost, whose agreeable, beautiful-people character-based veneer hides one of the most bugfuck mythologies ever unleashed on popular culture. The spoonful of sugar analogy is very apt – hopefully it applies to Jericho.Yeah, Jamie Foxx can be irritating, especially with his new music career. But he’s apparently tremendous in Ray (which I haven’t yet seen), and may have been indulging the cool dude roles too much lately. I can take him or leave him.

  3. Theeph says:

    Great point about Ladykillers and C and the C factory.Why do they do it? It’s incomprehensible.I wonder if it’s one of those things I don’t fully understand about the cinema process…Directors can be extremely skilled at what they do. Giants in their field. But perhaps the task of writing/directing is too daunting or they just lack that form of creativity and yet they itch to showcase their talents and do what they must love, so they get a story that is an established sure thing (perhaps one they themselves like) and flog it like pyramids aren’t getting built fast enough.That’s just my take on it, and has no verifiable basis in reality, but it’d be interesting to find out how close to the mark it is (or isn’t)

  4. Jack Reed says:

    It’s certainly a fascinating conundrum. I think the remake fetish is primarily driven by conservative studios, but when big-name directors get in on the game, it makes you wonder. Some directors are such film geeks that the idea of putting a new spin on a film they revere is irresistable. And that’s fine, in moderation and if the new film has a distinct purpose. But when it reaches inundation levels, you have to wonder about what’s going on in these director’s minds – is a remake all they can get greenlit? Is it the only way to get a decent budget? Are they so intimidated by the previous failure of innovative material that they won’t take a risk?Who knows, but it’s certainly a problem. But it’s not afflicting everyone, thank god. An interesting projection for Hollywood’s future that’s currently circulating is that huge-budget films are on the way out – mid-budget movies are often bringing better returns and doing better on DVD, and from our POV – and that of filmmakers – this is preferable because studios are less likely to interfere when their investment isn’t enormous, thus hopefully better and more ambitious films. In theory. The failure of MI3, Poseidon, Superman Returns, and Miami Vice this year, and the middling returns of Da Vinci Code, King Kong, and even X-Men 3, are giving plenty of important people pause for thought. But then something like Pirates 2 comes along and disrupts that particular train of thought. Who knows how it’ll go?But as Joss Whedon has said, DVD is the future and it’s scaring the shit out of the studios, but the filmmakers are loving it.

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