Should I Watch..? Miami Vice
What's the big deal?
Miami Vice is an action crime thriller released in 2006 and was written and directed by Michael Mann. Mann initially served as executive producer for the 1980's TV show of the same name alongside the show's creator Anthony Yerkovich. This film adaptation reimagines the show in a 21st century setting and sees two Miami detectives battling a ruthless drugs cartel. The cast features Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in the lead roles alongside Naomie Harris, Justin Theroux, Ciarán Hinds and Gong Li. Despite being one of the most financially successful films of Mann's career with total global takings around $164 million, the film's spiralling budget meant that it only just made an actual profit. The film was also dogged with stories of backstage drama involving a disgruntled Foxx and Mann's insistence on filming in some genuinely dangerous places, employing gangsters as security.
What's it about?
Miami detectives James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs receive a frantic phone call from a former snitch whilst working undercover in a nightclub. Alonso Stevens is quickly leaving town and asks Crockett to check on his wife who Alonso believes is in danger after his undercover work with the FBI becomes exposed. Quickly contacting the Special Agent In Charge, John Fujima, the boys track Alonso down who informs them that a Colombian cartel was threatening to murder his wife. After finding out that they had succeeded, Alonso commits suicide.
Crockett and Tubbs meet with Fujima who enlists them in his crusade to bring in the suspected leader of the cartel, Jose Yero. Now undercover and working for the FBI, Crockett and Tubbs head south and soon find that the operation is actually being led by a man named Montoya and the cartel are extremely well equipped and heavily armed. Already in over their heads, will Crockett's affair with Montoya's lover Isabella threaten to expose the duo?
Det. Ricardo Tubbs
Det. James "Sonny" Crockett
Det. Trudy Joplin
Barry Shabaka Henley
Lt. Martin Castillo
FBI Agent John Fujima
Det. Larry Zito
Archangel de Jesus Montoya
Michael Mann *
Release Date (UK)
4th August, 2006
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
As you'd expect, Mann has a terrific eye for realism and there's little doubt that Miami Vice certainly looks the part. The action sequences have a rather stylised look but retain their glamour-free, gritty realism - there are no explosions for the sake of it in the way that Michael Bay might direct a picture. Mann's use of digital photography instead of shooting onto traditional celluloid also provides a stunning level of clarity to the film, much like his earlier film Collateral. At times, it almost feels like a documentary if you ignore the speedboat chases and the familiar Ferrari engine noise.
Obviously, the film has to dispense with the Eighties atmosphere (no pastel suits or Phil Collins to be found here) and Mann has done a terrific job of bringing such an iconic show back up to date. Mann also elicits a commanding performance from Foxx, who sadly doesn't get as much screen time as Farrell does. His calm demeanour provides a contrast to Farrell's excessively hairy ladies man and he feels much more believable in the role.
- Shortly before filming started, Foxx won his Oscar for Ray. He then demanded a bigger salary than Farrell and insisted on being billed first. Instead, Foxx was only billed first in the US and Farrell received a pay cut. Foxx also left the set during filming in the Dominican Republic after a nearby shooting, resulting in a change to the film's ending.
- Like the TV show, Crockett drives a Ferrari in the film - a Ferrari F430 Spider instead of the classic 1985 Ferrari Testarossa.
- In addition to Foxx's diva behaviour, several crew members also criticised Mann's decisions to suddenly change the script, filming in unsafe weather conditions (it was hurricane season during filming) and choosing locations that even the police strived to avoid.
What's not to like?
A pity, then, that the rest of the cast don't really provide that much to enjoy. Farrell is pretty bad in the role, feeling as out-dated as a computer running a tape deck. But the supporting cast are nearly all unmemorable and they're not helped by a screenplay that feels deliberately confusing and loaded with police jargon. I have no doubt at all that it's accurate but it does help to weaken the cohesion even more. Even reacquainting myself with the synopsis on Wikipedia (for the purposes of this very article) failed to clarify to me exactly what was going on. And the less said about the predictably bone-headed romance between Farrell and Li felt tacked on, unnecessary and not at all in keeping with the realism of the film. Would a real undercover cop do such a thing in such circumstances?
Fans of the show will be disappointed as the soundtrack has been replaced with funky trip-hop and rock bands more interested in looking cool than sounding good. Furthermore, Mann's shooting style robs the film of nearly all of the colour and neon brightness that Miami is famous for. Until they get to South America, Miami Vice has a moody blue-and-grey shade that not only obscures what's happening but fails to draw you in as a viewer. The film decides that it wants to be a reboot whereas what most viewers would want is a homage like the Starsky & Hutch was.
Should I watch it?
Devoid of the life, colour and glamour that made the TV show successful, Miami Vice feels like a third-rate Bond parody that tries far too hard to be cool. I never felt involved in the same way I did with Collateral which is simpler, more exciting and much more enjoyable. Perhaps they left it too long - the show carved new ground for a TV series but in a film, it feels derivative and nothing like as iconic. Maybe Foxx should have tried harder fighting to get out of the movie...
Great For: reminding viewers about the TV show, digital photography, patient action fans
Not So Great For: fans of the show, real-life vice cops, Miami residents, people with short-term memory problems
What else should I watch?
Fortunately, you needn't look very far to find a happy alternative. The under-rated Bad Boys is a case in point - featuring great banter between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, the film has an equally improbable level of style and enough big action scenes that fill the entire screen up. With the aforementioned Bay in his directorial debut, the film combines comedy, action and pyrotechnics into a gloriously entertaining picture that feels closer to the Miami Vice TV show than this ever did. The 2003 sequel offers pretty much the same but the plot is somewhat lacking.
Of course, the movies had a release in 1984 (the year the TV show debuted, incidentally) that would spawn another glamorous, heavily stylised franchise - Beverly Hills Cop put Eddie Murphy on the map and remains a solid and very funny watch today. As is usually the case with action films, the sequels diminish the charm of the original but it's still worth a watch and Murphy is brilliantly funny.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox