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 known 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.
As 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 [NOTE FROM VERN OF THE FUTURE: I think Farrell is awesome now, I was stupid when I wrote that] 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.