Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Cool: Miami Vice
[With Public Enemies about to drop, The Cooler offers the following review, written upon the film’s release in the author’s pre-blog era.]
Michael Mann’s cinematic rendering of Miami Vice has several elements that fans of the original TV series will recognize. Namely: exotic locales, shiny sports cars, sharp suits, a white guy named Sonny Crockett and a black guy named Ricardo Tubbs. Beyond those bare necessities, though, there is little that relates this midnight blue crooner to the pastel pop artist that was the 1980s TV sensation.
For someone like me, always partial to Magnum, P.I., that’s no big deal. But I suspect that devotees of the small-screen crime show that canonized the cool of a 10 o’clock shadow, sockless shoe-wearing and stereo TV are going to leave the theater confused, if not disappointed. Because what’s the point of an adaptation if it hardly resembles its source material? In Miami Vice the movie, Mann, who was one of the TV show’s executive producers, has crafted a mostly flat rather than flashy drama in which Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas couldn’t even pass for extras.
The only things binding this movie to its inspiration are its title and character names. Even then the links are tenuous. I’ve always thought of the detective team as “Crockett and Tubbs,” yet I’m not sure the latter’s surname ever gets mentioned, probably because there seems to be so little to talk about. Colin Ferrell’s Sonny and Jamie Foxx’s Ricardo chatter as infrequently as an old married couple. And while they exude a too-cool-to-be-bothered suaveness, they are less cocksure than comatose. By comparison, James Bond’s “shaken not stirred” persona vibrates like a blender.
It’s as if Mann thinks himself too serious a filmmaker to embrace his more flamboyant roots. This doesn’t taste like 1980s primetime; it’s Heat Lite, with Ricardo stuck in the passenger’s seat and Sonny doing Neil McCauley flip-flops between a devotion to duty and an addiction to love. Gong Li brings intrigue as the sexy Isabella, the object of Sonny’s affection, but as the right-hand woman of a drug lord whose operation Sonny and Ricardo are trying to infiltrate, Isabella is as unavailable as she is stand-offish.
Thus the only thing more bizarre than Sonny’s out-of-nowhere invitation for mojitos is Isabella’s quick acceptance. Still, their far-fetched romance is the only part of the story with an emotional pulse. Sequestered in a Cuban bungalow, Sonny and Isabella turn up the heat and make us wish their dream could be our reality. But soon it’s back to the mainland for more confusing name-dropping in a punch-soft plot that never quite justifies its complexity.
Beyond the Cuba episode and some moody cityscapes, Miami Vice finds excellence only in its climactic shootout, which is vintage Mann: the machineguns are familiar, but the bullet caliber seems to be tripled as we rock with the impact of each slug. During the showdown I decided that Mann would be perfect to helm a John Wilkes Booth biopic, as he’d be sure to capture the bomb-like historical reverberations of the assassin’s tiny Derringer. Alas, in Miami Vice the bullets get lost in the visual noise of a digital ballad that has passionate aims but underwhelming results.
Addendum: I’m about to go on a Mann binge, and Miami Vice is the film I’m most looking forward to seeing again. Though my first reaction to Heat was much stronger, it took a few more viewings to see all that it has to offer. Perhaps there’s more depth to Miami Vice than I took away the first time. We’ll see.