“Miami Vice:” the name conjures images of neon-soaked glamour, excess, controversy, and rich characters. The television series of the 80s quickly reached out to a heavy following thanks in part to its primary characters Crockett and Tubbs. Director Michael Mann, on the other hand, has since refined his somewhat gritty, infinitely realistic and rather hectic style of directing with Heat and Collateral. So what do you get when you combine the two?
“Miami Vice” hits the ground running, plunging the viewer into the undercover world of detectives Crockett (Collin Farrel) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). It becomes apparent rather quickly that the pastel suits of the 80s have faded to a sheik grey, but the excess remains—two dealers pull up in Land Rovers, monitoring controversial video footage on their cell phones. The movie wastes no time in getting directly to the plot, but by doing so it also spends no time on establishing the characters to those who weren’t fans of the show.
The plot, overall, seems standard enough, but there are so many hurdles in fully understanding it that your head will be reeling by the time the climax arrives. Many friends of mine had differing opinions about whose “side” a character was on stemming from misunderstanding a snippet of dialogue. For those not paying attention throughout the intimidating density of the dialogue (and there’s a lot of it in the middle, believe me), it’s easy to get lost.
This problem is due in part to the relative lack of interaction between characters throughout the movie, namely Crockett and Tubbs. Very rarely do we actually see them together, and when we do they almost solely talk business. The two detectives would benefit from at least a small degree of idle chit-chat or jokes, but alas, there are neither. The movie itself wouldn’t feel so much like Miami Vice if it weren’t for Mann’s amazing cinematography.
“Miami Vice” is filmed exclusively on digital video, a choice made by Mann in his 2004 effort “Collateral” as well. The result is a voyeuristic and almost amateur feel to the camerawork: it looks like a Cops episode, adding authenticity to the actions throughout the movie. Add this to the fact that the entirety of this movie was filmed on location in both Miami and Paraguay, and you have a very amazing and truthful depiction of the locales. The Miami skyline soaks night-time clouds with an orange tinge while lightning rumbles through them; the streets of Paraguay are littered with trash and life. Make no mistake, this is a beautiful movie to watch. It’s as glamorous as the television show, but in its own way.
And then there are the action sequences, Mann’s prized specialty. Every shot resonates loudly in the theater like no other movie before it. The sound in these fights is simply excellent. A friend, after seeing “Heat” remarked that the shootouts felt inextricably real—the shots, the reactions, and the deaths. It’s all filmed in a very hectic manner, reinforcing the danger present. The exact same can be said about “Miami Vice”’s action scenes.
But the movie just doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts: after the surprisingly awkward pacing of the movie (action to set up the plot, dialogue, love, action) the viewer is either confused as to everybody’s allegiances or waiting for the obviously explosive end coming. While the sights and sounds are great, the characters just feel flat because so much time is spent on exploring the intricacies of the plot. There are inklings of true feelings toward different characters, but they are simply graced upon rather then explored. “Miami Vice” is far from a summer blockbuster, and just as far from a thought-provoking movie that shakes the beliefs of undercover agents. The result sits on a fence that leans towards the former but never quite keeps their attention. It’s unfortunate, because this is a very stunning movie.