So once again we have survived.

Miami Vice

MIAMI VICE is the movie version of the old TV show from the ’80s about Crocket and Tubbs. It’s written and directed by Michael Mann, executive producer of the TV show, now know as the humorless, pretentious, talented jackass behind COLLATERAL, HEAT, etc.

Remember that show? We, as a nation, stopped wearing socks when that show came on. We stopped shaving. We started wearing pastel shirts under white Armani jackets. We drove Ferraris and had pet alligators. We listened to Phil Collins and Glenn Frey and all that shit. Our hearts pumped to the rhythm of Jan Hammer’s awesome electronic drum pads. It was who we were as Americans. At least that’s what I keep reading in reviews of this movie. Actually, it is partly true, everybody loved that show and people did try to dress up as the characters. Like you Star Wars freakos only it was considered legit. Everybody from little kids to old men in walkers was wearing those ridiculous white suits and sunglasses. Pretending to be an actor on TV pretending to be a cop pretending to be a drug dealer. It was a fun time and it might be fun to make a movie that transports us back to those days.

Miami ViceAs you’ve probaly heard by now, Michael Mann is no fun, so he moved it to 2006 and didn’t put any nostalgic nods or references to the show, except for an absolutely horrible rock n roll version of “I Can Feel It Comin In the Air Tonight” on the end credits. So if you’re nostalgic for “the Miami Vice look” and what not you’re gonna have to go rent the DVDs. If you’re nostalgic for Cheech Marin, that’s Nash Bridges you’re thinking of, I think that show’s still on so you’re in luck. MIAMI VICE is not a period piece, so it doesn’t have alot of the superficial shit we remember from the show. But it is a modern equivalent I think, with the same kind of gritty realism, gloomy mood and atmosphere they were going for back then. I don’t think it’s as different from the TV show as everyone is making it out to be, but it is VERY different from Nash Bridges. So if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re gonna be disappointed.

Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx plays Philip Michael Thomas, overrated Colin Farrell plays Don Johnson, and Edward James Olmos is nowhere to be seen. But you get used to this pretty easy and the movie is just as dark, serious and moody as the show was, if I remember right. But now it’s the 2000s so they got some more technology, it’s shot on grainy handheld digital like it’s a documentary, and for some reason they call the speedboats “go fast boats.”

And before you ask, I don’ t think they ever show Crocket’s feet, so it’s hard to tell if he’s wearing socks or not.

The story is just about one case that Sonny and Rico stumble across by accident. If you don’t remember from the show, they’re undercover narcs so they go meet with some guy and try to sell him a huge load of dope, meanwhile trying to figure out this guy’s connection to a white supremacist gang led by the great Tom Towles (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) who recently killed some feds on a drug sting gone bad. So the whole movie has this feel of impending doom because some feds just got executed trying to make a sale to these guys, and Crocket and Tubbs have volunteered to go do the same god damn thing.

The movie is pretty long and has alot of scenes where characters stare off in different directions. I like that it keeps it simple and kind of minimalistic. They don’t try to explain everything that’s happening. When they start out their operation there’s a great scene where they brazenly jack a huge load of dope, then it just cuts to them driving around the next day and never explains what they’re up to. You’ll just have to wait to find out later.

They don’t try to explain much about the characters either. Alot of times in a movie they think they’re required by law to explain everybody’s backstory and have them come to some revelation about their life during the course of the movie, but not this one. One event causes Rico to refer to “this bullshit line of work,” but they don’t waste any more than that exploring that idea. Sonny may be getting in too deep with the undercover shit, Rico asks him once or twice if this is the case and otherwise you just have to judge by his actions and not by some speech he’s gonna make about it. Because he’s not gonna make one, thank God.

There is one scene where Sonny is with Gong Li and unless I misunderstood something, he tells her that his dad listened to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. This, to me, is hilarious, because as I’ve pointed out before, Mann goes into an insane monologue about Tom Cruise’s character’s off-screen dad’s love for jazz music on the commentary track for COLLATERAL. Michael Mann is kind of a weird guy and apparently that’s one of his obsessions, he for some reason thinks that to give depth to a character you have to figure out what type of music the character’s dad listened to. All you aspiring filmatists out there take note, that’s the secret. For example, John McClane’s dad probaly listened to Chuck Berry or somebody. That’s why he’s such a great cinema icon. James Bond’s dad I’m guessing listened to field recordings from Moroccan villages. Luke Skywalker’s dad didn’t listen to music ever in the prequels. What the fuck? That’s probaly why nerds hate the prequels. Plus, Darth Vader doesn’t even have a father, so how the fuck would George Lucas know what music his father listens to? He doesn’t. What a stupid character.

Gong Li plays the drug kingpin’s girl Isabella, who Sonny either falls for or screws as a way of getting at the big man, you’re not sure at first. Her English isn’t too hot so she can’t really hide the fact that her dialogue is kind of clunky. But when the acting is non-verbal she’s really good. There’s a scene where she’s screwing Sonny and you see tear streaks by her eyes and I think that says more about her character than the dialogue says, although I’m not sure exactly what it says. Or maybe it just means Colin Farrell is the man.

Speaking of which, he does a pretty good job as Sonny Crocket. I don’t remember Don Johnson being a gravelly-voiced hick, which is sort of how Farrell plays him. But it works. He’s more macho than slick. Sometimes his hair gets fucked up real bad, which is not something Don Johnson would’ve allowed to happen, I don’t think. There’s one shot that is 100% about the fact that his mullet looks funny when he rides in a “go-fast-boat.” Also, he includes a mustache with his 5 o’clock shadow, a 2006 twist to the old classic.

Jamie Foxx is real good as Rico, mixing a little Jamie Foxx swagger with the quiet sensitivity of my man P.M. Thomas. Also he can fly a plane. Rico gets the one joke in the movie, which I gotta assume Jamie Foxx improvised and then he must’ve convinced Michael Mann that his character’s actions came from a song his father used to listen to. Otherwise I can’t think of any reason why Michael Mann would leave a funny part in a movie. But you know what, I appreciate the seriousness. Better to have one joke and one laugh than to have lots of jokes and no laughs.

Although you don’t get to know any of them very well, Crocket and Tubbs have a good team behind them. Tubbs has a girlfriend (Naomie Harris from PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN 2) who you know right away is gonna get into trouble (otherwise why would he have a girlfriend?) but what I love is that she’s not a damsel in distress, she’s a fellow cop. The way they introduce her is completely badass and not in an obvious way. They have her yelling at one of their informants to get him to cooperate with their operation, and she’s very intimidating. So later when the bad guys come after her you actually give a shit, because you like her from earlier.

You’ve seen these undercover stories a million times, but usually they’re more Hollywooded up than this one. This has a realistic procedural type feel. There’s no plot to end the world. This might not even be the biggest case these guys have worked. It might not change theire lives forever. They are just some cops doing their job. Sometimes the cops talk shop and they use all this lingo and I don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. But I just go with it and it works out.

There’s not really action scenes. There’s a couple explosions and gunfights. There’s one shootout that looks and sounds completely real, and it’s hard to follow what exactly is going on. In an action movie that would be a dealbreaker but in this movie it works because it feels like the confusion of battle. The excitement doesn’t come from a guy doing a flip or jumping a motorcycle onto a boat, it comes from the tension of these two guys facing off against guys who don’t trust them and will kill them if they find out they’re cops. And they gotta somehow get the guys to buy their drugs and also get out of there alive.

When the movie goes off to be about Sonny and Gong Li getting together it’s a little less interesting, but it adds a little emotion to the end and I guess you probaly need something in there between the tense moments to get it to work.

It seems like the general consensus on this one is “it’s not enough like the TV show.” Apparently even Jay Leno said this in his capacity as substitute for ailing Roger Ebert. But honestly man… fuck the TV show. Are you telling me you have watched it at any point in the last 15 years? Or that you will ever watch it again before you die? Or that you remember it in detail? For 96%-97% of you I’m guessing no. I admit I was skeptical when I found out it wasn’t a period piece. But this is better. This is a serious, no bullshit cop movie with all kinds of tension and atmosphere. And the un-Hollywood approach on a miraculous Hollywood budget makes it stand out as a very unique movie. Not that I’m disavowing movies where cars go off of jumps, but it’s nice that they can still make a movie like this for grown ups with some amount of patience and brains still intact.

Hell, I would almost go as far as to say I loved this movie. It’s definitely not for everybody, not a crowdpleaser, but it is a high quality movie. Good job Michael Mann. But don’t get a bigger head about it, you fuckin egomaniac. Just to bring you down a notch here’s a few complaints about the movie, although none of them has any substance.

  1. Mojitos. What the fuck is this shit with mojitos lately. Everywhere you turn some motherfucker has to talk about mojitos this, mojitos that, I love mojitos. It would be one thing if mojitos was a brand new invention that has recently been spread to the masses, like Gogurt. But that drink is old, it’s like if all the sudden out of the blue everybody has to show off that they love peanut butter sandwiches. So when there’s a whole scene about Sonny and Gong Li going to Cuba to drink mojitos (“I’m a fiend for mojitos.” “Do you like your mojito?” “It’s a good mojito,” etc.) that’s just too much. How much did Bacardi pay you for that shit?* Or do you own a mint farm?
  2. Music in clubs is loud. But for some reason this movie has two different scenes where they’re in clubs and they have quiet conversations over music. I know that sounds dumb but since the movie opens in a club it was really distracting to me, I couldn’t get pulled into the movie like I should’ve. Was it the Twin Peaks movie where people had to yell over loud music and they subtitled it? I don’t expect them to do that every time but if you’re shooting it like it’s a documentary you gotta have semi-realism in the sound design too.
  3. What the fuck is so wrong with the theme song you gotta leave it out of this bitch. Come on Michael Mann, you know that theme song was awesome. Thank you for leaving out Don Henley and Glenn Frey, though. If you had put “You Belong To the City” in there this review might not have been so positive. I gotta end on a negative note though so let me just say that the music in general is weak here. You go into these rockin Chris Cornell songs every once in a while and I’m just guessin but I don’t think anybody is gonna be as affected by those as we all were by that cheeseball Phil Collins song back in the day. I mean, I fuckin hate Phil Collins, but you gotta admit that song establishes a strong mood. You coulda done better with the music bud. You blew it. Be humble.

*UPDATE: I was half kidding about that but it turns out my paranoia was dead-on. Matt Lynch from Collider pointed out to me that the MIAMI VICE trailer debuted on the Bacardi web sight. And sure enough, a basic knowledge of modern googling technology can quickly bring up other tie-ins between the movie and the booze. Now, I got a kneejerk reaction to some of this consumerism stuff but honestly I am less militant about product placement than most people. For example I thought the corporate sponsor jokes in TALLADEGA NIGHTS were completely legitimate as satire. But this mojito thing is bullshit, a blatant attempt to force a fad drink into the popular consciousness on behalf of a corporate sponsor. Crockett, you should be ashamed of yourself. You are in this shit too deep. I want your badge and your gun on my desk in the morning. And put on some god damn socks.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, August 7th, 2006 at 2:34 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Miami Vice”

  1. I agree with you, I loved this movie, and I am actually in that 3-4% of people who have actually watched the show in the last 15 years (I was only born 22 years ago after all).

  2. Yeah, I enjoyed MIAMI VICE. Maybe what fucked Mann was that he was trying to deploy his THIEF/HEAT/COLLATERAL auteurship into a more commercial-friendly snack package, and people threw it back to them because it wasn’t a parody-haha-this-really-is-dumb-and-silly-eh like STARSKY & HUTCH. I mean give VICE credit, it tried to be a true cop drama with a blockbuster budget, instead of yet another over-the-top cop actioneer. It’s cop melodrama pulp, but good cop melodrama pulp.

    PacmanFever – I’m in that 3-4% too, though less than 1% of those who grew up in Miami during MIAMI VICE. I don’t think it was much of a program beyond 80s kitsch fashion/music over your typical plot boiling crime melodrama tales, but one can’t deny that VICE was fucking popular and still for better or for worse, comes to most minds when the Reagan Decade is brought up.

    Or to put it another way, its why CBS had the first CSI spin-off/knock-off take place in Miami. And fun fact, CSI: MIAMI in 2006 was the world’s most watch TV show.

  3. Thanks, Vern.
    I loved this movie partly BECAUSE of the differences from the TV show
    (which I haven’t seen much of), it was cool to see how far Michael Mann
    has come.

  4. The funny thing is, I recently watched the first season of the show on DVD and I was surprised to discover that it’s not really all that different from the movie. The styles of clothing, music, and cinematography have changed, but the somber tone is pretty consistent. The show really isn’t the goofy campfest people remember it as. It’s not Knight Rider.

  5. Didn’t enjoy this one partly because Heat is such a fucking excellent film. In other words, I’m waiting for the second coming and I aint going to get it!

  6. solo – why do you want the second cumming?

  7. Vern I have to ask this. What the fuck is the joke that Jamie Foxx says? I’ve seen this movie like a hundred times on TV and I’ve never once noticed any jokes of any kind. When I read your review I tried to watch it again and either I was munching on something when the joke was said or it went over my head. You got to help me out a little here.

  8. I’m sorry odo, I haven’t seen the movie again since writing the review. If I remember right it’s not a one-liner or anything, he just makes one little comment that would count as a moment of levity. I don’t know, I’ll keep my eye out if I watch it again.

  9. The only humourous line I remember is when Crockett and Tubbs are meeting Jose Yero for the first time, to get the
    smuggling job. After a tense stand-off, Tubbs asks if they got the job. Yero says no, he doesn’t like Tubb’s partner.
    Tubbs – “Do you want to Fuck my partner?”
    Yero – “no.”
    Tubbs – Then who gives a fuck if you like his face.”

    Or there’s the moment where he’s having sex with Trudy and pretends to be exhausted mid-way through.

    Excellent movie – also, the tv theme-tune is actually used – or at least the “ratatat-tat” intro – is used a couple of times in the film.

  10. Odo, the joke vern was thinking of (I’m pretty sure) was the one MikeOutWest briefly mentioned about sex.

    Foxx and his girl are going at it and he does the old fake-nutting-after-like-30-seconds move and his girl gets all in a huff, but then he’s like “PSYCH!” and gets back to business.

    It really was pretty funny.

  11. Thanks Bob and Mike. For some reason I always skip past that sex scene. That muct have been why I missed that.

  12. I really, really, really like this movie. It’s just hypnotic and cool. It has every rote cop drama plot point (except for giving up their badges), but it’s done in a way that feels avant garde. Like, the whole movie in almost totally expositionless and we can only follow it because we know the basic superstructure by heart from other films. And when they do explain things, the explanations are all in code or slang. It always bugs me when people in movies explain things to each other that they would each logically already know. Well, Miami Vice just completely avoids that kinda thing. Everyone uses shorthand and Crockett and Tubbs never have a scene where they explain how they became friends while sharing a beer or something.

    There are so many cool ideas. Like, the scene where Crockett and Tubbs get the transport job. They show up acting like cowboys, underplaying their intelligence to set the bad guy off balance and using his Anti-American bias against him. Then, after they misdirect his attention away from questioning their credentials by questioning his and proving that they’re serious about business by threatening to commit suicide mid-meeting, they suddenly flip 180 and talk numbers and logistics in an incredibly technical and specific manner. And the whole scene works doubly well because Ferrell and Foxx play their characters as guys who are ballsy, but not necessarily the best actors. You can see the edges of the ‘real’ Crockett and Tubbs behind the mask of their ‘vice’ personas.

    And the cinematography. So damn pretty. I love the way that Mann establishes space by overlapping all the action so that one character is out of focus in the foreground while we get a shot focusing on a second character.

    Also, there is one really funny joke Mann tells in the movie. When Ferrell and Gong Li go dancing, you keep getting insert shots of them doing whatever dance. But the inserts are filmed to show only their torsos. Clearly neither Ferrell nor Li dances…but then the camera slowly creeps up after a really long insert shot and reveals that Ferrell and Li have indeed been doing that dancing. I thought that was funny. Also, the weird Texan guy who helps the cops out.

    Oh, and I love that they never even figure out who the mole is. They figure out that the mole is in the FBI, but even that is just kinda tossed into the middle of everything. The movie begins en media res and pretty much ends the same way. It’s a weird, day-in-the-life approach that I found very appealing.

    In fact, this is probably one of my favorite cop movies ever. It just gets better each time.

  13. I guess I’ll have to give this one a re-watch one day, because I remember just finding it boring

  14. Tawdry – did you see the Director’s Cut or the original version? And what were the differences? I honestly can’t remember which one I saw but the things I didn’t like about it were the things you did, i.e the lack of exposition/character background (or character development, i’d argue), and the fact that they just dropped the mole subplot. I think the only time Foxx ever showed personality or charisma was in that one joke during the love scene, and it seemed so different from the rest of his performance I feel it had to be an adlib that he had to beg Mann to keep in.

    But yeah, I’ll probably give it a rewatch in a few years to see if I like it any better; I hated Blade Runner and Grape Nuts until very recently, this one will probably grow on me as well.

  15. Tawdry’s description of the MIAMI VICE cinematography is well written & very similar to my descriptions of the COLLATERAL cinematography, probably because, duh, Mann shot those movies in the same digital format and a similar style.

    Here’s something unique about MIAMI VICE: You get to see a guy’s simmering rage and the exact instant his emotions lead him to personal vendetta, clearly depicted, without seeing his face. The camera drifts while pointed at his back side. And he’s virtually motionless. We know it’s set up by him seeing a video of his significant other hooking up with another guy, but still, the shot should be inscrutable. Yet, somehow, without seeing his face, we know exactly what he’s feeling, what he’s thinking, and what fatal decision he’s making. How often has that happened?

    Sort of like Mann’s “joke” with Gong Li & Colin Farrell’s dancing torsos, I think we’re seeing Mann fully in charge, playing with expectations, changing the visual language, demanding patience, adapting silences & eschewing expository dialogue in favor of more meaningful, intense stuff, and he’s doing it better than any other auteur.

    Also, I’ve been recommending Vern review the tv show MIAMI VICE for 2 years now, since the DEAD MAN’S SHOES review. I’ve said it a thousand times to a million people, the pilot [+ episode 2] is a fantastic feature film. I own the season 1 dvds, 22 episodes, just for that movie. It’s only flaw is the editing during the assault rifle shootout.

    Also if Vern needs convincing to get around to seeing CRIME STORY, there’s a tense chase-standoff scene where an old lady hits an unwitting armed criminal with a vacuum cleaner through her house’s screen door.

  16. I saw the theatrical cut, but apparently Mann added a new opening boat chase, integrated the (terrible) Phil Collins cover into the movie, and rearranged a lot of shots within the film.

  17. “There is one scene where Sonny is with Gong Li and unless I misunderstood something, he tells her that his dad listened to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

    I think he said that his dad was a roadie for those bands, which I suppose can be the same thing.

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