July 29, 2006

Movie Review: Miami Vice

If you want pastel colored clothes, bright sunny days, and a fun action movie, you are sure to be disappointed. If you are looking for a dark, gritty, violent excursion into the drug trade, then this may be something for you. As for whether or not it is successful, the answer is a little cloudier.

Miami Vice is a highly stylized film. The look and feel of it ranks first, followed by the plot, while dialogue and characters are way down the list. This split makes this an entertaining, yet highly frustrating, time at the theater. It is a demanding film that requires you to pay careful attention to the plot, or otherwise you will be lost and even more frustrated.

The plot follows Crockett and Tubbs as they get involved in the drug trade following a call that should not have been made. We are thrust right into the thick of things without so much as opening credits, and before you know it, the current job is pushed to the side when they get a frantic call from a former informer. This leads to the pair going undercover as drug smugglers to flush out the bad guys in the Keys. You have to pay attention as loyalties are changed and personal lives become entwined with the professional lives, which could prove to be all of their undoing. I know, it isn't the most original of plots, but writer/director Michael Mann knows just how to make it all seem fresh enough. The proof of all that is good is the execution of the premise.

The problems with the movie all lie with the dialog and characters. I don't blame the actors, as they all did good jobs with what they had to work with. The script fails all of us when it comes to motivations and character development. Aside from laying the framework for the plot, there isn't much point for the dialog. This leaves many characters going through through the motions, and the ones you want to know more about, sadly shallow. I had trouble really understanding why they felt so strongly early on about the mission. Why, why, why? I wanted to know more about these guys and why they were so passionate. Perhaps with stronger writing I could have become more involved with the plot, rather than just working on keeping it straight.

Despite the lack of characterization, or perhaps in spite of it, Mann puts a premium on the value of romance. Both of our leads have romantic entanglements which filter their outlook on the job. The relationships offer the most insight into Crockett and Tubbs than anything else in the film, however, in the end, they just prove to be a couple more plot devices used to fuel the action sequences. Actually, the two lead to a pair of the best scenes in the movie, involving a hostage situation and a climactic showdown.

Our leads are no longer Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, no, the new Crockett and Tubbs are Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. Both of whom are more than capable actors, particularly Foxx, who absolutely floored me in Mann's last film, Collateral. They both look, and for the most part, act the part, but they are saddled with poor lines such as: "No one has tread before where we are now. We're seeing their operations from the inside." and "Takin' it to the limit, one more time." Ugh, just awful. Farrell also has the problem of lowering his voice to the point of sounding fake, and his accent is a little uneven. Still, I like the looks they brought to the roles, and wouldn't mind seeing more of them in these roles, if the writing is better. On the other side is the best written character, Gong Li's Isabella. Li was last seen in 2005's Memoir's of a Geisha as a threat to Zhang Ziyi's rising star. She may not have the best command of the English language, but she holds her own, delivering more depth and emotion than the rest of the cast combined. Her character is one of the leaders of the Colombian cartel, and she gets involved with Farrell's Crockett.

Despite the lack of substance, the film looks fantastic with a gorgeous grittiness that permeates every frame. Michael Mann is an artist with the camera. The way he shoots the night, letting you see the film grain, shooting each frame as if it were the only one, this is where the substance lies. Mann along with his DP, Dion Beebe (Collateral, Memoirs of a Geisha), created a look that is involving and memorable and makes up for its shortcomings.

The other big plus are the action sequences, they are meticulously staged and get the adrenaline flowing. Beyond that, Mann is not scared of showing a little blood. The shootouts are violent, head shot, limb severing affairs, and convey a deadly seriousness to the proceedings. The climactic showdown, in particular, is one of the better shootouts to grace the big screen in sometime.

Bottomline. Despite my problems with the characters and dialogue, this is still a film that I would recommend seeing. Michael Mann has delivered a stylized, adult oriented action film that is worth seeing on the big screen. The movie is beautifully shot, adrenaline filled, and features a fine performance from Gong Li. May not be as much as it could have been, but be thankful for the lack of pink shirts, white sport coats, and loafers with no socks.

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