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Miami Vice – trendy men triumph again

bit heavy on the after-shave there Jamie

Miami Vice – Michael Mann

Michael Mann doesn’t bore us with this movie. But it is hard to believe that the director of Manhunter, Heat, and especially The Insider did not bore himself while making it. There is so little aspiration here. The original TV series was never a stay-in-for unlike the innovative, gritty realism of its TV contemporary Hill Street Blues. HSB had substance, real characters, good writing and an ensemble of fine actors. MV was in contrast derivative and predictable. But it was fun and had style. And in its unusual Miami setting became the series that launched a thousand trips (holiday). If Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas were less than charismatic, they had a certain kitschy flash. The TV MV was a bit of harmless, mindless Friday night action fun. Mann has re-heated this past-its-sell-by-date little snack but left out the salt. He forgot the fun.

After the distracting dazzling white perfection of his orthodontic performance in Collateral, Jamie Foxx seems to have decided to keep those gleaming pearly-whites fully sheathed in MV. Indeed he underplays Rico Tubbs almost to the point of invisibility. Colin Farrell (Sonny, definitely not sunny, Crockett; but almost hairy enough for Davy) does well with a thinly written part. But outside these two, almost everyone is instantly forgettable except for Li Gong as the crooked alpha-female Isabella – girl-friend but not wife of drug baron Luis Tosar (Arcángel de Jesús Montoya – no I’m not kidding). Sonny’s bedding of the drug Baron’s woman before he and Rico have even done their first delivery for the guy seems a pretty dumb under cover gambit. As for the rest of the characters, put them in an identity parade outside the cinema and no one would get picked out.

Mann’s instinctive talent for tone and atmosphere serves this uninspiring, un-aspiring project better than it really deserves. MV looks good and sounds better. Visually it broods darkly to a thankfully understated (after Collateral’s excesses) score. But here these fine qualities serve nothing of substance. Miami Vice is paradoxically about drugs. A bit of transparent plot juggling brings this job-switch off early on. After a blown, indeed blow away, federal drugs investigation, our two heroes go under cover to find out which of the plethora of law and order agency acronyms, has a mole feeding information back to the crooks. These are inevitably South American, sporting Castro beards and speaking with a menacing musicality reminiscent of the San Miguel beer adverts. The plot device of uncovering the traitor seems a bit like a cheap bottle of wine you take to a party – ostentatiously displayed then once acknowledged you never go near it again. You have no idea what happened to it and are relieved never to see it again.

I don’t really see what MV is for. Mann doesn’t open out the characters in any way and the action sequences while professionally done don’t really add much to the pace of the movie. He seems to have taken an old, almost flat bottle of lemonade, shaken it up a bit with result that any last vestiges of fizz it may have once had have finally disappeared completely. Fast boats, cars and planes are all slowed down by the plodding script. MV is also one of those action thrillers where the plot always stays one step ahead. You never catch up and don’t really know what’s going on much of the time. This is partly because we are only told half of the plot and even that in such laconic and pared-down form that we can’t really hear what’s going on.

Not a bad movie – just a slightly dull one.

(August 2006)

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