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What "Miami Vice" lacks in content it doesn't make up for in nostalgia

by JD Warnock on July 28, 2006

in Print Reviews

I can remember distinctly the feeling I had…slipping on my white mesh shoes and straightening the white blazer over my pink polo, thinking to myself that if there was a way to make my exceptionally dorky ass cool…this has got to be it. It was the time of “Top Gun,” Pac-Man and “Footloose” and I like millions of other weak-willed young boys bought hook line and speed boat into Michael Mann’s TV hit “Miami Vice.” If penciling a Don Johnson-style five o’clock shadow on my face with crayon had seemed like even a slightly good idea I would have tried that too. Luckily, that phase ended a long time ago and like the majority of my adolescence I have no interest in revisiting that era…with the possible exception of VH1’s “I Love the 80’s.” So, when I heard series creator and director Michael Mann was making a film version all these years later, I figured he must have some really brilliant reason for doing so. That couldn’t have been any further from the truth.

Not only does the film version of “Miami Vice” fail to produce the imaginative story idea I expected from Mann – this plot is hardly worthy of a “CSI Miami” – it also suffers from minimal and dreadful dialogue. “Miami Vice” the movie, breaks no new ground with the old characters, instead it regresses Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs to less interesting, humorless heavies. Deliberately dry David Caruso would actually be a lively improvement to this murky ensemble as they do little to foil Mann’s familiar, but in this case, unusually slow pacing.

Jamie Foxx owes a great deal to Mann after he provided Foxx’s breakout role in “Ali” as Muhammad Ali’s trainer Bundiny and his role opposite Tom Cruise in Mann’s phenomenal “Collateral.” In “Vice” Foxx once again holds his own and manages to get by on his steady cool. Colin Farrel on the other hand, gives a pedestrian performance that might make some wonder if there is a grip off-camera holding cue cards “Saturday Night Live-style”. The brooding actor is neither nuanced nor believable as either a police officer or a Cuban-dancing Casanova. 

“Miami Vice” looks cool, Mann is no slouch and he knows how to make the most of crossfire battle sequences with slick choreography and camera placement. The sound design elements of the film make the gun play seem extremely real and for the first time I can recall, these exchanges sound more like CNN coverage of Iraq than a level of “Grand Theft Auto.” Sadly, the storytelling aspects of the film lack substance and frankly would make a much better game scenario than a movie.

Recent films like “Firewall” and “16 Blocks” didn’t have the style and quality Mann brings to “Vice,” but ultimately the brevity gives these lesser films the advantage. Had “Vice” clocked in at under two hours it would likely have edited out several of its story issues and found its swagger in being more concise. Like Stephen King, who writes a 1500 page book that’s good when a 400 page version would be amazing, Mann seems to insist on more where less would be better. Case in point, I don’t remember much about Mann’s 1995 cops and bad guys sleep-fest “Heat” except that the highly anticipated DeNiro Pacino scene was weak and the movie was too damn long.

All my hopes for a sweet Michael Mann trifecta may be dashed with the poorly conceived “Miami Vice,” but I’m confindent he will make up for it quickly. This summer’s highest impact blockbuster remains “Mission Impossible 3” and anyone hoping for a resurgence of the white blazer or Glenn Frey’s solo career will just have to wait.

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