Review: Miami Vice

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(Foxx shown with co-star Farrell).

If nothing else, Miami Vice (1984-1989) was the ultimate triumph of style over substance.

For the success of that popular cop TV-series probably derived as much from its ambiance as from its high-octane action. Memorable more for its dizzying opening sequence, pulse-pounding theme song, and an unabashed promotion of pastel colors than for any of its plebian plotlines, this was a show which wowed its audience with oodles of attitude and cutting-edge chic.

And that attitude and chic mostly came courtesy of the animal magnetism of co-stars Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in their capacity as Dade County Detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, respectively. Each week, these larger-than-life heartthrobs didn’t so much solve crimes as define cool, generating a palpable buddy chemistry while making cutting-edge fashion statements which would help shape the tastes of a generation.

The executive producer of the program was Michael Mann, director of such critically-acclaimed feature films as Collateral (2004), Ali (2001), The Insider (1999) and Heat (1995). The challenge the four-time Oscar-nominee faced in adapting Miami Vice to the big screen was whether to appeal to a sense of nostalgia via a faithful recreation of the original series or to take the risks associated with overhauling a proven commodity.

Well, Mann opted for the latter, meeting with mediocre results. Besides the lead characters’ names, not much is recognizable about this edition of Miami Vice. The picture pairs Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell as Tubbs and Crockett, though the partners fail to exhibit any of the camaraderie a fan of the franchise might expect. The primary problem is that Farrell is exposed, here, as not quite ready for prime time, as he simply lacks the charisma called for to star in a summer blockbuster. Foxx, by comparison, turns in one of his typically engaging performances, even if his animated exchanges are with a wooden Indian.

Why Mann bothered to call this flick Miami Vice is beyond me, because it could just as plausibly have been named “Murder She Wrote,� “Matlock ,�or “The Rockford Files.� Gone are the citrus-colored clothing, the Jan Hammer soundtrack, and the local flavor featuring that trademark Art Deco architecture. In fact, most of the movie was shot outside of Florida, in Los Angeles and around exotic locations in Cuba, Colombia, Paraguay, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

But the convoluted, unnecessarily complicated story does at least start in Miami where we find Crockett and Tubbs assigned to go undercover as drug dealers in order to crack an international cartel. A most improbable plot twist has Crockett falling in love with Isabella (Gong Li), an Amer-Asian gangster’s moll with a mean streak. Tubbs’ love interest, on the other hand, is fellow officer Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris) who ends up in the clutches of some sadistic white supremacists about to incur her boyfriend’s wrath.

Moviegoers familiar with Michael Mann’s work in Heat and Collateral are already aware that he’s given to the graphic depiction of senseless slaughter. The trouble is that, here, he makes us wait and wait and wait for those savage sequences as the film lumbers along, getting bogged down by about 45 minutes of dead dialogue that should have been left on the editing room floor.

No chemistry, no cool, no compelling characters, no air of urgency. Just a very average crime caper which fails to entertain the viewer on a gut, cerebral or superficial level. Not exactly your father’s Miami Vice.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for sex, expletives and graphic violence.  Running time: 132 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures.

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