Sunday, April 19, 2015

Miami Vice (2006)

Director: Michael Mann                              Writer: Michael Mann
Film Score: John Murphy                           Cinematography: Dion Beebe
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Li Gong and Barry Shabaka Henley

This film is yet another example of the utter lack of originality in the product coming out of the major Hollywood studios. It seems the only creativity in film to be found these days is from independent production companies and independent filmmakers, both of whom are willing to take chances and risks to give audiences compelling stories and characters. The major studios are so timid that the only thing they seem willing to green-light are superheroes and TV show retreads. Miami Vice is one of the later. The only thing that keeps this film from being a failure, though, is the presence of Michael Mann as the writer and director. Mann was the visionary for the original Miami Vice TV show as the executive producer during its entire six-year run. The series featured Don Johnson at the peak of his lengthy career as a television actor--some would say actor, period--and Philip Michael Thomas, who has done very little since, as police detectives in the pastel-washed city of Miami in the late nineteen-eighties. The show’s success rested on its distinctive vision at a time when popular fashion was adrift in phoniness and pretension--though many would argue that the series was a prime example of the very same phenomenon.

The film begins with the two vice detectives, Colin Farrell as James “Sonny” Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, in a nightclub setting up a sting on some criminals running a high-end prostitution ring for big spenders, personally bringing the girls in for their clients to purchase. But the club is packed and they can’t get to the subjects in time to make the arrest. Meanwhile Farrell gets a panicked call from John Hawkes, a paid informant, saying that a drug cartel has kidnapped his family and that he doesn’t expect to live because he gave up everyone except the two of them. The FBI’s men were killed because of the information, and agent Ciarán Hinds comes to the Miami Police for assistance. The cartel is supposedly run by Jon Ortiz out of Columbia, and Farrell and Foxx jump at the chance to go undercover to avenge Hawkes’ death. They begin by destroying the jet boats used by Ortiz’s contract transporters and offering themselves as replacements. After meeting Ortiz, however, it soon it becomes clear that he’s not the boss, as he seems to be taking orders from Li Gong, who in turn takes them to meet the actual boss, Luis Tozar. From there, it’s just a matter of maintain their cover long enough to make the sting on Ortiz and, if possible, Tozar.

In terms of plot, this is just an extra-long episode of the television show, which doesn’t make for good cinema. The casting is unfortunate as well. Jamie Foxx is clearly the best actor on the screen, and yet he is relegated to the sidekick role. Colin Farrell brings none of the humor or the craziness associated with Don Johnson’s character, leaving his portrayal flat and unconvincing--an unfortunate feature of most of his film performances. The other problem with the cast is the reliance on Barry Shabaka Henley as the lieutenant to reprise the iconic and enigmatic performance of Edward James Olmos. Henley does as well as he can, but it’s miles from the intensity of Olmos. The female detectives are better in some ways here, more capable and confident than in the series, but the other two male detectives in the film recede into anonymity in a way that John Diehl and Michael Talbott from the show would not allow. As stated earlier, the plot is a non-entity and entirely predictable: you can walk away for minutes at a time and come back not missing a thing. What makes the film interesting, again, is Michael Mann’s original vision updated for the new millennium. It’s not enough for a lot of fans, and that’s understandable, but Miami Vice is worth checking out--on cable. It’s definitely not worth shelling out money for.

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