Smuggler's blues: Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell in Miami Vice (2006)
[In honor of Michael Mann's much anticipated Public Enemies to be released this Wednesday and Michael Mann week at Radiator Heaven, here's my of-the-period review of Miami Vice (2006)]
What could be more fun than working for the vice squad? You get to slouch around like a hoodlum, penetrate underworld organizations, and drive Ferraris while wearing designer shades, flashy suits, and beard stubble. In Miami Vice, being on the vice squad means spending plenty of time on your cell phone, driving speed boats, and posing against dramatic cityscape backdrops.
Director, writer, and producer Michael Mann has always conveyed a sense of style in his movies, many of them very good. I liked his early film Thief, and his recent movie Collateral even made Tom Cruise look plausibly vicious. With Miami Vice, though Mann attempts to jack up a successful TV show to over-the-top summer feature length expectations, and something's not quite right. Beautifully shot with high definition film, the movie is so awed with its own myth, it lacks humanity. It is all style to the point where one misses the content. Without much reason for the audience to get involved, the film drags.
To get a sense of the problem, one can contrast Jamie Foxx's work between the two recent movies. In Collatoral, Foxx plays an ambitious but otherwise ordinary cab driver who eventually has to act like an underworld kingpin just to survive. The nuances in his acting makes the film plausible and interesting. You can see him decide to act tough even though it goes against his better nature, yet he also finds he likes it. In Miami Vice, Foxx's version of Detective Ricardo Tubbs is all tough, self-satisfied cool. He appears on the screen at the height of self-possession and stays that way, quickly establishing his heterosexual credentials by stripping off his shirt to show his newly musclebound frame and making epic love with Naomie Harris. Ricardo Tubbs is cool, smart, talented, and hence, a bit dull. Jamie Foxx has so much attitude, his considerable acting ability has nothing to do.
When it comes to Detective Sonny Crockett, I confess to a weakness to the memory of Don Johnson's easy smile in the original and influential 1980s TV show. Now we are supposed to accept Colin Farrell in the pastel suit, and I suppose if I were a female reviewer, I would swoon at his gorgeous mullet hair-do, stubbled chin, and drooping mustache. He reminds me of Glenn Frey in the heyday of the Eagles, only with more hair gel. Crockett is supposedly so suave, he steals away Gong Li (playing underworld smuggler Isabella) on a speedboat to Havana to seduce her into further exorbitant drug deals as they both admire their infinite good looks in the bathroom mirror. I never found Farrell to be wholly convincing, perhaps because of the lingering air of disaster left over from his participation in Oliver Stone's Alexander.
Otherwise, the plot rehashes a zillion other smuggler's blues made-for-TV storylines. Sinister white supremacists have a "meet and greet" with some undercover FBI agents underneath a scenic bridge in the dark of night. The meeting goes badly once the supremacists' sniper shoots the agents into smithereens, and so the FBI calls in Sonny and Tubbs to infiltrate a Columbian drug-dealing organization to transport contraband on their speed boats.
While the film's cinematography is consistently painterly, with swooning vistas over Lear jets and Ferraris shining under lightning streaked skies, a large chunk of the plot was lifted straight from Mission Impossible 3 with the usual young woman tied down and tortured in her usual chair. When it comes to meet with the bad guys, where do the filmmakers pick? A shipyard.
Sonny and Tubbs soul-search about whether or not they have gone too far to the criminal side. At one point, Tubbs says to Sonny, "There's `undercover' and then there's `which way is up?'" When some of their police crew start to get hurt, Tubbs questions how much these underworld games are worth, but instead of caring, I mostly lulled by all of the cloud formations, distant gunfire, and windswept palm trees set against the sparkling purplish Miami skyline. Sometimes a movie can be too handsome for its own good.