Miami Vice March 2, 2020
2 Hrs., 10 Mins.
resentationally, Miami Vice, a 2006 reimagining of the 1980s TV show, makes it seem like it’s going to be yet another example of modern cinema’s tendency to take beloved, decades-old material from a few decades earlier and “grittify” it for a new generation. It’s mostly been shot with a Thompson Viper Filmstream — the digital camera that makes everything look like an unusually crystalline home movie or,
more fittingly, like an episode of Cops (1989-present). The pop artishness of the show — undergirded by a flavorful use of accented pastel colors and a proclivity for New Wave music — is traded in the feature for griminess. The film has been shot in the so-called bad parts of Miami with dour color; it favors clanging, dungeon-like mood music from Audioslave and Moby. (There’s even a nü-metal cover of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”)
“Once, I had a fortune. It said, ‘live now. Life is short. Time is luck,’” says Isabella (Gong Li), a kingpin-style character in Miami Vice, at one point. With the movie, unlike the television series, director Michael Mann (who executive-produced the show back in the day) really wants to drive home the fortune's advice — underline the doom lurking underneath the dangerous thrills. So while it's true that the look and feel of the movie might at first smell to us like pandering realism — a ploy to make Miami Vice appeal to a new crop — the film works over us, because it’s not a cynical do-over to my eye but rather a glimpse at indelible material through a different lens.
Miami Vice is labyrinthine. I admittedly had a difficult time keeping track of its revue of characters and, in the case of many of them, how exactly they served the plot. Yet the convolutedness of Miami Vice has a strangely hypnotic effect, efficiently evoking the maze-like nature of the criminal milieu it portrays. Like the TV show, Miami Vice concerns itself with detectives Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs. In the film they’re played, respectively, by Colin Farrell (retaining forebear Don Johnson’s surfer blonde, shoulder-length hair) and Jamie Foxx. For the movie adaptation, the characters, to put it simply, go undercover to undercut sophisticated, South Floridian drug-smuggling operations. The messy task is made messier when Crockett begins to have an affair with Isabella, the lover and financial adviser of main antagonist Arcángel de Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar).
One can envision the film’s storyline stretched out over the course of a succession of episodes. I wonder if, had Mann fashioned his aughts update for the small rather than silver screen, it would be more followable, generating more tightly wound suspense and doing away with some of the movie’s somnolence. There would be more time to digest, regroup. This wondering, though, is not meant to suggest that the film suffers as a result of its sleepiness and/or tangliness. This is a crime feature whose mood and atmosphere are unusually enough to take us higher. It doesn’t matter what’s going on specifically — abstractions and generalizations are OK — and it doesn’t matter to us if, by the end of the movie, we notice that we know little of the inner lives of these characters. We just like watching, existing inside the movie — a sensation that I think is supported by the way it finds a sweet spot between persuasive realism and a sort of cinematic grandeur. It convinces enough to make us feel like we too are going undercover, then is escapist enough to enchant us as passive audience members.
It’s impressive that Mann was able to take an earlier work of his — an exemplary feat of procedural TV — and then retool it into an intoxicating crime-world fantasia where sense needn’t matter à la The Big Sleep (1946). Sometimes enough style and conviction in one’s presentation can make a film. Miami Vice is a movie to get lost in. A-