Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed ‘Miami Vice’ when it rolled around during its theatrical run.  You see, the Vice screening coincided with whatever the name of that Woody Allen movie with Scarlet Johannson was and I drew the short straw.  As reports would have it, I was the lucky one as many of the reviews had been lackluster at best, and since both films let out at around the same time, the people streaming out of the theater also seemed disappointed.  But thanks to the magic of DVD and being a Vice fan I get the opportunity once again to see ‘Miami Vice’ in the comfort of my home.  As such, I’m afraid I must disagree with the lackluster reviews and the exit polls from that day as I found Michael Mann’s remake of his own TV show a very entertaining, tense, taut thriller.

I think one of the problems the movie viewing public may have had with the movie version of ‘Miami Vice’ is a nostalgic connection to the old TV show.  My question to you is... have you seen the show recently?  I have, as you can catch it on Spike almost 24 hours a day, plus I have the first two seasons on DVD.  Truth be told, the show just isn’t that good when being watched in 2006, as opposed to 1986.  The thing that made Vice so cool for us teenagers back in the day was the cops were different from any other kind of cop we’d seen on the tube up to that point.  The clothes, the cars, Olivia Brown’s ass, and women thought Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas were ‘fine’.  It was a show we simply couldn’t afford to miss, especially since Tivo wasn’t invented yet and nobody knew how to program a VCR.  After a few years, once we became accustomed to the clothes, cars and Ms. Brown’s ass, the stories had to pretty much stand on their own, and with some exceptions, they couldn’t.  Watching the old shows on DVD, I discovered the stories were fairly flimsy, but we just didn’t care.

It would not have served Michael Mann well to remake Vice the way we remembered it with pastel colors and sunny beaches.  If we can recall, Mann’s Hannibal Lector serial killer film ‘Manhunter’ was very similar to the TV show ‘Miami Vice’ in color and tone.  Mann has obviously grown, or at least changed as film maker and the new Vice is the version I would have expected from the director.  Darker, gloomier, muted colors, violent and intense.  For the most part, the look and the film itself worked for me.

All of the characters from the show are there.  Colin Farell is Sonny Crockett and Jamie Foxx is Rico Tubbs.  The cars and the incredibly nice houses have remained as well.  The situations are similar, as Sonny and Rico are undercover drug runners trying to flush out a major kingpin.  This gentleman however makes the Calderon character from the show look like Mary Poppins.  Obviously, technology plays a huge part in the new Vice universe as cell phones, AWAC spy planes, cell signal jammers and satellite feeds are critical tools for law enforcement and drug runners alike.  Sonny is up to his old tricks, messing around with women he has no business fooling with such as the wife / accountant of said drug kingpin Isabella, played by the absolutely loverly Gong Li.

There’s nothing particularly special or clever about the narrative in ‘Miami Vice’ as it plays out as a standard bad guys, good guys cop flick with lots of guns.  We have a damsel in distress, we have large amounts of blow that need to be moved, we have really, really bad guys such as the Aryan nation, in addition to the throat slitting, family slaughtering Columbians we are already familiar with, and of course we have a big shoot out at the end.  What makes Vice work is the mood that Mann has created, I’d almost say mastered, as few can create an edgy, dark atmosphere as well as this director can.  The dark tone seeps through even in scenes where we would imagine there would be joy, such as when Sonny as Isabelle are saling it up in sunny Havana.  The deliberate pace matches the dark mood, as this is not an over the top action film, but a hard, violent, gritty drama with lots and lots of killin’.

Farell and Foxx acquit themselves quite well individually in the roles of Crockett and Tubbs,  but together, you hardly get the feeling that the two are partners, much less like each other much.  They relate to each other more as colleagues, and less as friends, though there seems to be mutual respect between the two.

No Jan Hammer, no Glenn Frey and no Phil Collins still equal a pretty good movie.  Mann probably went wrong in calling it ‘Miami Vice’ in the first place, since, with the exception of the characters names, it has almost nothing to do with the TV show.  Definitely deserving of a top spot in your Netflix cue.

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