The whores of Hollywood have cannibalized every innovative TV-series concept from Mission: Impossible to The Flintstones in their desperate experiments to produce box office magic from a tube. What took so long to get around to Miami Vice?
The obvious assumption is that Universal and writer-director-producer Michael Mann, the prime movers behind the '80s television landmark, simply were waiting for the right combination of actors and script. Well, that can't be true. Otherwise, they'd still be waiting.
While Mann personally helped define the action-crime genre through a remarkable résumé of TV shows (Police Story, Starsky and Hutch) and feature films (Thief, Heat, Collateral), when given the chance to expand the palette of arguably his most memorable creation, he's tossed aside his bright pastels in favor of dark, murky silhouettes. Mann has performed the near-impossible here: He has actually managed to make Miami gloomy and uninteresting.
The result is a movie offering sporadic action without excitement, sex without sexiness and a pair of leading men Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx who are content to strike GQ poses without much to say.
The original Vice, which ran on NBC from 1984-89, was a cultural phenomenon: Colorful, edgy, drug-obsessed and pulsating to a pop-rock beat, this show was the 1980s. It made overnight superstars out of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, household names out of their characters Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, and sparked a men's clothing revolution: a pink T-shirt under a white Armani suit. Frank Zappa and Lee Iacocca appeared as guest stars. One blade manufacturer marketed a razor designed to leave a five o'clock shadow so men could emulate Crockett's grizzled cool.
Ah, memories. Mann's new Vice guys sure are pretty, but Farrell's greasy, glowering portrayal of Crockett is, like the film itself, monochromatic. And though he has little to do other than fly a cool little plane (the aerial shots are marvelous) and talk staccato cop-speak gibberish ("ops," "intel," "go-fast"), Foxx still has yet to prove he can be convincing in a dramatic leading role. (Yeah, yeah, he won an Oscar for Ray; right man, right time, perfect part. Didja see Stealth?)
The plot is as simple as a straight line drug lords kill undercover federal agents and an informant's family, Crockett and Tubbs go deep-deep undercover to mete out justice but is blurred and detoured by style over substance, as it hopscotches from South Florida to Havana to Geneva and back. Along the way, Crockett seduces the kingpin's inscrutable financial analyst-mistress (Gong Li), screeching the storyline to a halt while they have a steamy shower-sex scene. This might be provocative if Tubbs hadn't had a steamy shower-sex scene 30 minutes before. Hey, these are clean cops!
The action doesn't even become interesting until the good guys bust into a trailer park meth lab to rescue Tubbs' agent-lover (Naomie Harris), and by then the 90 minutes you've invested feels wasted. Music, such an integral part of the TV series, is notable here, too, especially the jubilant salsa rhythms and Nonpoint's cover of "In the Air Tonight," and you've got to believe Farrell and Foxx had a great time bouncing around South Beach in custom suits and cigarette boats. It's a shame they couldn't share any of that enjoyment with us.
Jim McFarlin writes about movies for Metro Times.. Send comments to [email protected].