If you’re a fan of the original Miami Vice television show I would love to be able to tell you that writer and director Michael Mann has delivered a film that revives the spirit of detectives Crockett and Tubbs and sends them on a fast paced, undercover mission into the gritty heart of the drug underworld. Unfortunately what he has come up with is a mildly entertaining but underwhelming action movie that is a little too short on action.
Vice squad detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are torn from their usual beat of smoking out local drug dealers and thrust into the world of international smuggling rings when a federal sting operation involving one of their inside informants goes terribly wrong. The intrepid duo and their entire team sign on to go undercover for the FBI and soon find themselves deep in the confidences of one of the world’s most powerful smugglers, Arcángel de Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar). This guy isn’t just dealing in illegal drugs, he’s also into trafficking the heavy duty stuff like exotic plants and pirated DVDs too (finally, a movie the MPAA can rally around).
While undercover Sonny begins spending an awful lot of time on the dance floor and in the shower with Montoya’s right hand woman, Isabella (Gong Li). Tubbs begins to worry that his partner getting too emotionally involved. He’s soon distracted as well when Montoya’s left hand man, Jose Yero (John Ortiz), gets his hands on one of their team members, who just also happens to be the woman Tubbs has been spending an awful lot of time with in the shower.
There’s nothing terribly complex about the setup, which leaves plenty of room for lots of exciting action. Mann can’t be bothered though. Too much complicated choreography and stunt driven gun play perhaps? He’s too busy finding stylized ways to film his characters as they benignly race around the world in their custom Ferrari, jet boats and other very cool high-speed toys. It’s a shame too, since the few action scenes he does throw in are real sparklers, full of the kinds of “ooh”, “ah” and “yow” moments that these movies are meant for. How many minutes of Farrell and Li speed-boating to Cuba do we really need to see? What could have been an intense, 100 minute adrenaline experience ballooned into a bloated two-and-a-half hours of over-indulgence.
Michael Mann is hit and miss as a screenwriter, especially when it comes to actual character dialogue. The last time he tackled a law enforcement story (Heat) he had some serious acting powerhouses to carry him through, but not even Pacino and DeNiro could have made this one sound good. Characters spend most of their time in silence as they cruise about by land, air and sea. When they do get to speak its mostly into cell phones and headsets explaining to each other either what just happened or what they’re about to do. All that expository jabber and pseudo-drama only serve to remind you how long it’s been since someone picked up a gun and actually did something exciting.
Why the movie is even titled Miami Vice I’ll never know. Less than half the movie actually takes place in Florida, much less Miami, and the characters Farrell and Foxx play only distantly resemble those Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas immortalized in the eighties. Farrell seems to take a stab at mimicking Johnson’s lightly graveled voice but maybe it’s just all that cigarette smoking catching up with him. The only elements that match are the vices; guns, drugs and sex figure into the heart of the story. Of course, that’s what you’d expect from any undercover cop movie, making the Miami Vice angle more a gimmick than anything else.
OK, so I’ve hammered away at the problems, but for all that there are some good things about Miami Vice. The movie visits some beautiful, exotic locations, skillfully filmed by Mann. The few real moments of action, especially the finale shoot out, are truly riveting. The actors even manage to slip in a couple of nice dramatic moments here and there, even if the director drags things out too long. For all that it still boils down to a largely forgettable movie and a step backward for everyone involved, especially Mann.