"Miami Vice" is one of the more perplexing studio releases of the year, a reported $140-million monster that has nearly no action or special effects to show for its budget, and a comatose plot so uninvolving and deliberately paced that commercial prospects look frighteningly grim. A loose adaptation of the 1984-1989 television series posing as a love story posing as a crime drama, the film's biggest cardinal sin is how deadly serious and somber writer-director Michael Mann (2004's "Collateral
") treats the material. Any movie based on a somewhat kitschy show from the past should have a sense of fun to it (think 2000's exuberant "Charlie's Angels
"), and "Miami Vice" doesn't. It's a joyless, downbeat affair with a monotonously self-important mess of a script, featuring actors who look like they'd rather be anywhere else but here.
Strictly in terms of plotting, dialogue and editing, "Miami Vice" is an unmitigated disaster. The undercover crime story, stale and unimaginative to boot, is either difficult to follow or just so dull that the viewer can hardly bother paying rapt attention. The writing, too, is awkward and often overwrought, with the actors alternating between mumbling their lines and silently staring off into space, looking as if they are woefully unprepared to be in front of the camera. Possibly falling prey to script problems, the editing moves at the speed of molasses and for a long time takes on the appearance of a late-night Cinemax flick, complete with no less than four or five gratuitous sex scenes within a 20-minute block.
And yet, even as the picture sinks to shocking depths in the shadow of its own flagrant egotism, "Miami Vice" is nearlyjust nearly
saved by its top-shelf aesthetics. If this is one of the heftiest creative failures of the year, it is also a masterpiece of mood and visuals, painting a part-gritty, part-breathtaking portrait of Miami so electrifying in its atmosphere that you can practically feel the city's humidity and landscape of deep-blue and purple neon emanating off the screen. Michael Mann's writing deals in pithy, unmotivated nonsense, but his filmmaking abilities are never in question. He has crafted a splendid-looking motion picture with cinematographer Dion Beebe (2003's "In the Cut
"), the images as pulsating with mystery and depth as the narrative is emotionally dead. The sound mixing is extraordinary, playing ingeniously with silence as a tool to create tension, and the memorable music choices across the board (including, yes, a cover version of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" by Nonpoint) are without fault.
Colin Farrell (2004's "Alexander
") and Jamie Foxx (2005's "Jarhead
") take over for series regulars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as vice detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. In order to infiltrate a group of narcotics traffickers involved in a multiple murder, they must go deep undercover as smugglers whose job it is to transport drug loads to southern Florida. Against his better judgment, Sonny begins secretly romancing Isabella (Gong Li), a Chinese-Cuban drug dealer who appears to have a sympathetic soul underneath her steely exterior. Sleeping with someone who is ostensibly on the enemy's side, however, can only mean trouble as Sonny and Ricardo move closer to their target.
"Miami Vice" is a film that would work ten times better if the dialogue was put on mute and the music and images did all the talking. The plot is an afterthought, and even director Michael Mann seems disinterested in it. After all, why else would he put so much emphasis on the forbidden love affair between Sonny and Isabella and treat the central story thread involving the undercover investigation like a necessary evil? Billed as an action-packed thriller in the marketing ads, the movie's violence comes in abrupt spurts and the only action of note are a couple been-there-done-that shootouts. Audiences expecting a fast-paced popcorn ride will leave 130 minutes later thoroughly unsatisfied by the ponderous nature of the narrative, filled with long pauses, lingering glances between characters, and a buddy relationship between Sonny and Ricardo that barely qualifies as a friendship at all.
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx share middling screen time together as Sonny and Ricardo and even less chemistry. They are so stale as partners and disconnected from each other that if it were revealed the two actors shot all of their stuff separately and then were pieced into the same scenes during post-production, it wouldn't come as a surprise. Jamie Foxx may have won as Oscar less than two years ago for "Ray
," but that standout performance is beginning to feel like a fluke; he is terrible as Ricardo Tubbs, a listless presence with thankfully little to do. Colin Farrell's Sonny Crockett is unquestionably the lead of the filmhe is the person we followbut a detached one at that. Farrell's line deliveries are wooden and stilted; this could be his worst acting turn to date. Filling in the female quotient are Naomie Harris (the one saving grace of 2006's grossly overrated "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
"), as Ricardo's longtime girlfriend Trudy, and Gong Li (2005's "Memoirs of a Geisha
"), as the morally torn Isabella. Ironic, that the one actor who doesn't fluently speak EnglishGong Liovercomes all the odds and delivers the film's most nuanced and focused performance.
With "Miami Vice," Michael Mann has concocted a big-budget art flick burdened by a clunker of a screenplay that is clueless of how to convey the spirit of the television series while establishing itself as a stand-alone entity. Gorgeous on the outside but as murky as a mud puddle internally, the film is unlikely to please fans and even less likely to garner new ones. Were "Miami Vice" but a series of frozen snapshots, it would be something to celebrate. As a cinematic work that necessitates characters and plot, it is a frustrating, disorganized lost cause.