Universal // 2006 // 140 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // December 18th, 2006
José Yero: I like you. You are tough. But I didn't like your partner.
[indicates Det. James "Sonny" Crockett]
Det. Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs: Hey, Do you wanna f*** with my partner or do business with us?
When you analyze box office returns, Miami Vice was the most disappointing big studio release to hit cineplexes in 2006. Rumors swirled the film adaptation of the hit television series lost over $100 million in comparison to total budget and box office sales. One post on IMDb claimed the loss was at $145 million, and this sparked a major debate among insiders and fans of the franchise that raged all over the Internet. While this may be speculation with inflated numbers, nothing can change the fact Universal is looking to cash in with sales of Miami Vice (Unrated Director's Edition). The DVD allows director Michael Mann (original executive producer of the 1984 televised incarnation) to remix and tweak his final cut with seven minutes of additional footage and alternate scoring in key sequences. Does it help?
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx step into the roles of Crockett and Tubbs, undercover vice cops working the drug underworld of Miami. After an FBI undercover operation goes horribly wrong, the Dade county officers are recruited to find out what's really happening. The two men lay everything on the line as they become runners for a powerful drug cartel headed up by an infamous lord with some leaks in his organization. Loyalties will be stretched thin, and the women they love will become targets as the game plays out spiraling out of control.
This isn't your father's Miami Vice. Gone is the Jan Hammer score (although he was offered the gig to update his 1984 work), nobody wears pastel t-shirts, and Don Johnson is nowhere to be found. Miami Vice the movie is a more mature Michael Mann updating his own vision by making things painfully real and far darker. The look of the film is stunning, and the end result captures the spirit of the television series in many ways even if it feels totally removed tonally. I walked away from the big screen adaptation wanting the cars, the boats, the clothes, and the women. That's exactly what the series did for most people. Undeniably though, this is a complete overhaul of what came before.
Foxx and Farrell act tough. Colin wears a fashion forward mullet, packs on some pounds, grows a handlebar mustache, and mumbles through the whole movie to reinvent Sonny Crockett as a redneck hipster who sports a quiet menacing demeanor. Jamie Foxx plays himself, but removes all humor to make Rico Tubbs a no-nonsense heavy with a blank canvas to fabricate an undercover identity. Both actors studied their roles with real operatives who infiltrate drug deals, and they learned sticking to your own persona is the most effective weapon. The rest of the cast feels authentic with standout performances given by Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) as the love interests. John Ortiz (Amistad) makes a fine villain in his turn as José Yero, the right hand man of the drug lord.
Typical to Mann's previous efforts such as Collateral or Heat, the film looks stunning. There are shots of Miami that will make your jaw drop, and the foreign location set pieces are breathtaking. You couldn't ask for a more visually pleasing film. In addition, the scoring work amps things up nicely. When you couple a great Moby song with a boat heading to Havana shot from overhead, the effect is some of the best cinema you'll ever witness. Mann is a master of visual elements coupled with sound, and gives Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) a run for his money as the man who can make anything look spectacular. The style overtakes the story, and I'd be happy just watching the visuals fly by.
The DVD treatment for this unrated extended version from Universal is top notch. The anamorphic widescreen transfer may be a touch dark, but that is due to Mann's strategy of playing the story primarily at night. It does capture the theatrical experience well, and translates it in your living room competently. Colors look nicely saturated, flesh tones are accurate when not filtered, and there are no digital flaws. Of course, the film was shot in high definition digital, so the process should have been an easy authoring. The soundtrack pumps out aggressively in a full surround treatment. There are a wealth of featurettes concentrating on behind-the-scenes looks, and the only thing missing are any comparisons to the 1984 vision. I was amazed that ghost was never raised, but they treat the film as its own project. Mann provides a great commentary track, which explains his intentions and process in an entertaining way.
This edition differs from the theatrical print by seven minutes. Mann adds in a boat race at the start, gives quite a few more character beats for the ladies, and inserts a cover version of "In the Air Tonight" before the climax that ties it to the TV show in a sly, wry way. There's nothing racy or more violent, but the added material helps in development of relationships. It's a nice cut, although Mann's original vision wasn't significantly different. He says he views this as a "remix" of the movie, but it is the one to own.
The story plods, and the running length at over two hours feels overly inflated. Where the movie stumbles is while it is light years ahead of the television show in grit, it lacks any of the charm or humor it had in 1984. The situations feel real, and the twists and turns, though not complicated, are serpentine. Mann doesn't spell anything out, but he also doesn't seem to clearly relate the narrative to make it accessible and compelling. We just don't care enough, and that's the biggest problem. It's not Miami Vice the series where we loved the two cops, and felt invested even when Sheena Easton showed up as a love interest for Crockett. Instead, we are served a tough, gritty cop drama that Mann could have wisely titled something different to avoid the comparison and nostalgia. It's a good solid crime thriller, but it feels removed from what came before it.
Miami Vice is a solid Michael Mann flick, and it makes for a gritty, visually arresting experience. The actors are all great in the roles, and I was enthralled with the romance angle. Gong Li proves to be a formidable talent in a role that allows her to couple halting English with her extraordinary physical presence. I believed Sonny Crockett would fall for her since she was sexy, tough, and smart. Who wouldn't? And in the end she embodies what is right and wrong with the film as a whole. It's a sexy film to look at, a tough experience at times, and well thought out...but it may be a little too tough for its own good. It's certainly more believable than the television show, better looking, and harder. Yet we have a hard time falling for the characters because they are too busy being real to be likable. This is a good movie, and certainly worth a look. The DVD presentation is nice, and it is entertaining. Nostalgia for the day-glo '80s show will kill those expecting that angle. This one is almost exclusively at night or at least overcast days, much more edgy, and features a Crockett and Tubbs who take their job far more seriously. Ironically enough, Mann was encouraged to make this as a pilot for a new television series. It certainly doesn't have the feeling of a story that would continue in a compelling way. Too bad he just didn't rename the project, so he could have avoided the small screen comparisons. This is like an inverted version of what came before, a reimagining that reverses the negative on the original.
Guilty of being a solid, sexy Michael Mann movie, Miami Vice will disappoint those looking for the TV series. But it is free to go as one of the best looking, slickest films of the year.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Commentary with Writer/Director Michael Mann
* Featurette "Miami Vice Undercover"
* Featurette "Miami & Beyond: Shooting on Location
* Featurette "Visualizing Miami Vice"
* Behind the Scenes Featurettes