This isn’t your typical Michael Mann movie
Michael Mann is know for big productions. His budget for one film outsizes the yearly expenditures of many small-market sports franchises. He’s often generalized about in the same breath with Michael Bay, whose pictures include “Bad Boys,” “Armageddon,” “The Rock” and Pearl Harbor.”Critics often attack Mann’s films as too big and extraneous. Too many helicopters. Too many cranes. Too many gun battles. While they are big, they are narratively sound and don’t rely, like Bay, on loaded contexts (anything more loaded than armageddon?) to bring audiences to theaters.”Miami Vice” though, somewhat pins down the big-production creativity viewers have come to expect after Mann films like “Heat,” “The Insider” and “Collateral.” Set in America’s Mediterranean, “Miami Vice” could have exploited all the slick and suave that drenches the south-Florida-city’s image. Miami, a Las Vegas/Los Angeles hybrid, rolled out on a white carpet instead of red, is just about the best location to induce a pointless waste of money.
“Miami Vice” isn’t that. It isn’t clunky like “Gangs of New York” or painfully slow and narcissistic like “Alexander.” The film is clean, if not completely sanitized, and flowing. But there are no barbs of suspense or intrigue, either. Fortunately, though, Mann captures the beauty of the city but doesn’t latch onto it.The South Beach smooth all but disintigrates after the first scene in which matching white Range Rovers pull up in front of a packed club filled with women in sleek dresses and men in suit jackets. Mann doesn’t ignore the beauty of Miami at night, he just doesn’t dwell on it (much of the film takes place in Haiti and Havana).As a TV show, “Miami Vice” was an exercise in ’80s excess. Mann lets little carry over from the cops-and-robbers drama he produced and help create. The film’s bad guys are an assortment of international villains rather than well-dressed tan-skinned fugitives. There are no one-liners (or much humor at all) or cheeky slides over the hood of a convertible.But Mann does move quickly. Viewers are instantly imbued with a sense of urgency when Det. Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Det. Ricardo Tubbs (Jaime Foxx) get a call from a former informant telling them a major drug deal is going bad – right now. Simultaneously, a clique of Arian thugs is annihilating a pair of undercover feds with the most high-powered rifles you’ll see on screen.
Because the stakes are so high from the outset, “Miami Vice” captures the audience by the second scene. This denies the audience suspense and a dramatic story arc, though. With the plot laid out so early, there isn’t much room to move up or down and Crockett and Tubbs are quickly assigned to infiltrate the drug/arms dealersAlthough Colin Farrell (whom Al Pacino called the best young actor of the generation) will never fully convince audiences as the leading man, Michael Mann displays his pull for actors from many different walks of film. The informant is played by John Hawkes, the quirky lead from 2005 Cannes Camera D’Or winner “Me and You and Everyone We Know.”Li Gong – Hatsumomo in “Memoirs of a Geisha” – is drug-cartel upper management and the king pin’s concubine.While Farrell is underwhelming, Gong is impressive. She’s a stone-cold businesswoman but vulnerable. Intimidating but nonviolent. Plus, she’s willing to traverse the 90 miles from Miami to Havana for a mojito. But, unlike other female characters in Mann’s films (Jada Pinkett Smith in “Ali,” Ashley Judd in “Heat” and Madeline Stowe in “Last of the Mohicans”), Gong’s is under utilized. Dynamic at the start, she becomes a one-dimensional pawn of both Crockett and the drug organization she belongs to. After Crockett and Isabella fall for each other following a few mojitos and a dance, it’s too obvious that she isn’t pulling any strings. There’s none of battling duplicity that you would expect out of a love affair between an undercover outsider and a dyed-in-the-wool criminal.
Fortunately, Isabella helps wedge Crockett and Tubbs apart. They are not glued at the hip like so many duos in cop flicks. The detectives are a helix of interaction and separation in a film that is as much bitter-sweet romance as it is action.Vail, Colorado
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