REVIEW: Miami Vice [2006]

“Drugs, Money, and Speed”

I had heard a rumor going around that writer/director Michael Mann was having a real tough time cutting his feature adaptation of his own 80’s television drama “Miami Vice.” Supposedly he wasn’t finding a balance in the material he shot that would support his vision of the update. Whether this is true or not, I believe he was finally able to come to terms with the brutal look at underground police justice he had filmed. The movie has an edge to it that works well with Mann’s forte of shooting city-life at ground level like his recent Collateral and classic Heat. However, with that said, the movie is definitely rough around the edges. Many times it feels as though we are at a sneak preview screening seeing a preliminary cut of what will be trimmed into a powerful film. I can’t wait to see the finished version. It’s just a shame that that final cut is in fact what I saw.

Colin Farrell’s Sonny Crockett and Jamie Foxx’s Ricardo Tubbs are Miami detectives in the midst of a bust when they are contacted by a former informant, the always-trustworthy character actor John Hawkes. They are soon enveloped into an agency snafu where it turns out that the two partners are the only people not compromised on a mission and will have to go deep undercover to set things right. The proceedings are shot very close-up and grainy with a deliberate approach to showing emotion on behalf of the actors. Miami Vice is a dark film, both atmospherically and contextually. We are shown dangerous dealings, without a safety net throughout, and see the danger these men risk their lives on. As most movies of this ilk show, we are privy to violence, role-reversals, bad women falling for the good guys, high-octane vehicular speed, and all the other action clichés one can think of. On the most part, though, they work and help make up a compelling if not convoluted storyline.

On the acting front, all bring their A-games. Farrell continues to surprise with a nice turn as the cop on the tightrope of becoming that which he hunts. It’s a shame people don’t give him as much credit as they should; everyone should see his range in movies like Tigerland, Intermission, and even most moments of Phone Booth, before totally writing him off. Foxx shows us again that with the right direction he could be a great actor. Maybe not his best work, but performances in both this and Mann’s Collateral help us to forgot debacles like Stealth and an over-the-top job in the otherwise underrated Jarhead. Gong Li is great as the woman playing both sides and Naomie Harris takes another small role to a higher level like she did in the Pirates sequel a couple weeks ago. On the other hand, we see two actors, who need to get more work in Hollywood, as wasted space. Isaach De Bankolé is seen for a flash in the opening scene and Justin Theroux is relegated to multiple, “it’s your call,” quips to Crockett and Tubbs. I will, however, be on the lookout for John Ortiz in the future to do some good things in movies. His villainous turn here as the middle-man/coordinator José Yero is very effective, and probably the best part of the film.

The acting just can’t quite carry the film above its choppy feel. There are many instances where quick cuts between scenes feel as though something is missing. We are treated to short scenes like that of Foxx talking coordinates when flying a plane, that have no relevance at all, while also then cutting between locations with no sense of how everyone got there. Do we really need two gratuitous shower scenes that have no meaning in the plot other than to show how Foxx loves his and girl and Farrell loves his just as much? It’s a real shame, for at many times during the sloppiness, there are signs of greatness. Even the music appears as though to just be placeholders until the real songs are added in post-production. The soundtrack is very good, don’t get me wrong, it just feels misused in the scenes it tries to accompany. Also, when you have three songs by the same artist, (either Chris Cornell solo or with Audioslave), play at different moments it should have meaning. There are no comparisons to be made that the music links, they are just there. It confused me and did what a soundtrack should never do in a movie, be noticeable rather than enhancing.

I went into Miami Vice with very low expectations. The acting was admirable, the mood engrossing, and the action scenes well done. Each small explosion of violence was effective and jarring. If only the movie itself was allowed more tweaking and honing, all that would have meant more. Mann had a vision that he just couldn’t quite convert onto film. It’s a great first draft. Maybe one day he will go back and tighten it up to make it what it has all the potential to be.

Miami Vice 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) in Universal Pictures Michael Mann directors’, Miami Vice – 2006
[2] Gong Li, John Ortiz and Colin Farrell in action movie Miami Vice – 2006


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