Miami Vice

There are many ways Miami Vice could have sucked. They could’ve dwelled on the past. The espadrilles and white blazers. The classic Ferraris and the flashy guns.

The boats, the music, the fashion, all of which Miami Vice had a great impact on in the 80s. Any of which could have been the basis for a movie, considering that many movie remakes these days are willing to work with anything no matter how shallow. It could’ve even gone the Starsky and Hutch comedic route, and it’d still probably be a hit. Besides, you already had Jamie Foxx there, playing Det. Rico Tubbs, which used to be played by Philip Michael Thomas, whose Hollywood star went kaput after the TV series. Foxx would’ve had us rolling on the floor laughing our guts out with material like that.

Instead, Michael Mann wrote the single most stylish, exciting movie I’ve yet to see this year, and the only one I wouldn’t mind seeing over again.

The plot is complicated, so I’m sure this will turn a lot of people off, especially those who just want the standard escapism flicks like these usually provide. Basically both detectives Tubbs and Crocket, played by much – too – Irish Colin Farrel, along with their team are given carte blanche authority to find a mole within the ranks of the FBI + a host of other anti narcotics government agencies compromised by it.

While getting involved with the extreme baddies, Crocket gets involved with the wrongest girl you can possibly get involved with, the beautiful and talented Gong Li. Gong’s commanding presence lends credence to the high-powered businesswoman she plays, and frequently overshadows Farrel, who’s just too Irish to play the overtly outlandish and very American Southerner personified by Don Johnson.

At any rate, Mann doesn’t sweat the plot and details, preferring to use large brushstrokes compared to the minute details he puts into the characters. That’s always the case when you do so, I think, as concentration on details would have lost much of the strength his characters try to portray. Hence, I’m confused as to how the plot ironed out, ending in a big gunfight in the end which may not have been their goal. I wonder if they really did manage to find the mole they were looking for, and it seems to me the whole operation took place and was over in two weeks.

The details however, for lack of a better word, are perfect.

Of course, there’s still a Ferrari, this time an F430, which honestly, Ferrari would’ve been crazy if they’d not provided, especially considering the now legendary story as to how they volunteered the famous white Testarossa, a proper Ferrari, for the TV series to replace the hybrid Johnson was originally using. There’re still fast boats and guns, and noticably, Foxx’s Tubbs still prefers shotguns, just like Thomas did, except his was sawed-off. I would’ve liked it if Tubbs still drove around in his pimp-mobile, but I’m sure Mann would’ve found that distracting and unnecessary.

The real meat however, came with the personal lives the detectives lead while undercover. Tubbs relationship with one of the detectives played by Naomie Harris is put through great strain in the worst possible way, and Foxx pulls off an unforgettable and incredibly understated performance of grief, hate, frustration and blind anger, all the while hardly saying a word. It’s him that I remember most in the scene as he is saving Harris.

Incidentally, it’s in this scene, where one of the most important lines come through:

“This is what’s going to happen. This is what’s going to happen. I will put a round precisely through your medulla oblongata, which is located at the base of your brain, straight through a point mid-distance between your upper lip and the bottom of your nose and you will be dead from the neck down. Your finger won’t even twitch. Do you believe that?”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is true Hollywood movie action white knuckle macho chesthair teeth gritting clenched fist muscle flexing stuff. Action at its extreme, mouthed by tough as nails Det. Gina Calabrese (Elizabeth Rodriguez) in dramatic albeit understated fashion, desperately eager to save her fallen comrade. She hardly says a word in this movie, but certainly makes an impact. I bet we’d be hearing that line several times over in the next few months.

Detective Sonny Crocket’s personal struggle to do his job whilst having fallen for the wrong girl, an oft-repeated situation back on TV, would’ve been the great focal point in this movie if it weren’t so miscast. Farell tries his best though, acting very angry by lowering his line of sight, with furrowed brow and frowning mightily while driving a BMW in the last scenes, but that’s about it.

Without that however, what we have is another Michael Mann classic, capturing that prolonged feeling of vastness and scale as we watch fast boats travelling across the ocean from Havana to Miami, or an overhead shot of a Bentley being driven by a desperate man on the highway, just like Al Pacino catching Robert De Niro as he views him from a helicopter in Heat.

For some reason, the movie reminds me of the feeling of comic books I read when I was a kid, with quick, fast paced action, heightened by the communication between the leads even without saying a word, belying their trust in each other, which in turn defines their dedication to what they were doing. All done with great flair and style, the movie preferring low-res, unfocused, almost grainy shots (but in high definition nonetheless) and in the process conveying much more than it would if clear.

A confusing plot and miscast main character notwithstanding, Miami Vice is my favorite movie of the year so far.

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5 thoughts on “Miami Vice

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  2. ruby

    The plot was actually pretty template: go undercover, get romantically involved with the mark, stage a buy-bust, kill all the bad guys, leave a loose end for the sequel. But I will agree with you that Mann's execution is superb and worth the watch even if you already know the story. The movie-goers I sat with actually clapped and cheered three times during the show. You'll know how effective the director is when he can create a build-up that leads to an explosive scene (literally) that makes the audience cheer like ringside fans.Ye, I wouldn't mind seeing Miami Vice again. I'll gloss over the parts where Farell exerts too much effort looking meaner in locks than his Capt John Smith, modulating deeper than his Alexander. But I'll listen more closely to Foxx's "hittin' a rip" patois. I'll most likely savor the speedboat scenes again. But I'm sure I'll enjoy how the shootouts put you in the middle of the gunfire, morbidly ecstatic over the distinct gunshots and rhythmic flashes ala 4th of July fireworks. Like I told my son, I have two words for this movie: testos terone. ;)

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