Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Miami Vice"

For a brief moment in the opening scene of Michael Mann's "Miami Vice," it seems like time has just stood still since the show was on every Friday night.

We first see Crockett and Tubbs, now Farrell and Foxx, entering a neon-lit disco, complete with pulsating music and glittery go-go girls grinding to the beat. But it doesn't last too long.

Because, as Mann obviously knows, this isn't the cocaine-crazy South Beach we fell in love with on TV. This is something much more scary. It's the afterparty.

Gone is the pastel pastiche of yesteryear, but Mann still sets a definite mood. Shot in somewhat grainy digital video, it's a much harder place that still manages to suck us in and keeps the tension high almost troughout.

And how have Crockett and Tubbs changed over the years? Not much. The major change is that, although they nominally work for the Miami PD, they're much more like the Saint (Roger Moore, of course, not Val Kilmer; they seem to have no bosses other than themselves, and although they clearly want to take out the baddies (who still, of course, deal drugs), it seems to be more for the sport of it than out of any sense of civic duty.

But so what. Mann's movie plays like a two-hour TV show, with a slightly too complicated plot that comes to a suitably messy resolution. Along the way we get several signature Mann touches that show he's at the top of his game. Its at its best in the final act, when Crockett and Tubbs are closing in on a trailer park where some nasty white supremacists have kidnapped Trudy (the suitably sultry Naomie Harris.) I have trouble calling such an orgy of violence "operatic," as A.O. Scott did in The New York Times, but if you can stomach it, it is indeed riveting to watch.

Before we get there, however, Mann loses course a little as Farrell's Crockett gets entangled with Isabella, the lady friend of our chief baddie, played by the always radiant Gong Li. They do sizzle on screen, and she outshines him in every scene they share. But their little side trip to Cuba, right in the middle of the movie, brings the action to a grinding halt at a crucial moment.

But the 20-minute-or-so stretch doesn't ruin the rest of the fun. And how are Farrell and Foxx? Well, Farrell does indeed act like a vice cop who's been working a tough city for at least 20 years. He looks and acts beaten down, and can't even look like he's having fun when delivering a line as sublimely silly as "I'm a fiend for Mojitos." But it works for the part. Foxx is more passionate as Tubbs, though often with comic results. Watching him ham it up while discussing the minutae of police work in full jargon mode is a hoot.

I think I would enjoy watching Gong Li just wash dishes, but luckily she has much more to do here, and fares well. Harris is going to be a major star very, very soon. Barry Shabaka Henley fills in ably for Edward James Olmos as Lt. Castillo, and it was nice to see Isaach de Bankole again, even if for the only first few minutes.

Mr. Mann has managed to make an entertaining summer flick with sometimes serious (bordering on silly) undertones. It's no small feat, and well worth a Saturday matinee.


Vasta said...

So I'll admit that I wasn't a fan. In fact, I think it was one of Mann's weaker efforts.

I think it was the love story that killed it for me, though I love Gong Li. I'll have my review up soon, but in general, I wasn't impressed.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can see why people might be disappointed, Vasta ... the love story was definitely the weakest part, but it didn't kill it for me .. I'll definitely stop by to check out your full review

1031 said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this movie for one reason and one reason only: Michael Mann makes incredible-looking films.

I don't know whether the writing's any good or not yet, but that became almost an afterthought after I saw the first couple of trailers for this movie. It just looks

Reel Fanatic said...

As with most Mann movies, 1031, the look is indeed miles ahead of the dialogue .. however, it's at least as well-written as the TV show, which was good enough for me