Universal // 2006 // 140 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // August 26th, 2008
No law. No order. No rules.
When I first heard rumors that the old Miami Vice television series was to be adapted for the big screen, I was haunted by visions of a Starsky and Hutch-style parody/remake. I could imagine, say, Seann William Scott and Chris Tucker buffooning around as Crockett and Tubbs in pastel suits, loafers with no socks, and Wayfarer sunglasses. I was underwhelmed by the idea.
But when word came that Michael Mann (one of the show's creators) would write and direct the feature himself, I saw hope for the project. If Mann eschewed overt homage to the series, stayed away from making a cheesy period piece, and got down to business with the kind taut and action-packed crime drama he's capable of delivering (see, Heat), Miami Vice could be one hell of a fun summer ride.
Detectives Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx, Ray) and Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell, Alexander) are thrown for a loop when the case they're working in a Miami nightclub is interrupted by a phone call from one of their old informants. Alonzo Stevens (John Hawkes, American Gangster) wants them to know that he's gotten crossed up in a drug deal he set up between a group of white supremacists and undercover FBI agents, but that he hasn't given up any information about Tubbs or Crockett. All hell is breaking is loose.
Later, in a meeting with FBI Agent Fujima (Ciarán Hinds, Rome) and their boss, Lieutenant Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley, Collateral), Tubbs and Crockett learn that Alonzo was acting as an informant in a multi-agency investigation involving the FBI, DEA, and ICE. A mole inside one of the agencies gave Alonzo up as an informant. Now, Fujima wants Tubbs and Crockett to pose as slick traffickers who will offer to move product into the United States for drug kingpin José Yero (John Ortiz, Carlito's Way).
Once inside Yero's operation, the two detectives realize he's only a middleman, that the real kingpin is the mysterious Archangel de Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar, Mondays in the Sun). Despite Fujima's political timidity, Tubbs and Crockett are determined to take down the big man and demolish the entire cartel. The stakes are life-and-death as the cartel's soldiers target fellow vice cop and Tubbs's girlfriend Trudy Joplin (Naomi Harris, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), and Crockett plays a dangerous game of illicit romance with Montoya's business partner and lover, Isabella (Li Gong, Memoirs of a Geisha).
Miami Vice is a wonderful rarity: a summertime popcorn movie for adults. Its plot is convoluted, pace relentless, and action brutal and kinetic. It's not for the PG-13 crowd. The critical mixed reaction (I'm being generous) and the movie's poor take at the box office had more to do with false expectations than the quality of the flick. Miami Vice is not cheesy homage to the TV show. Worse yet, from a marketing perspective it falls into some weird middle ground between straight-up crime stories like Mann's Collateral or Heat and mindless but explosive summer action movies like the Mission: Impossible series. In staking a claim on this risky ground, it failed to capture the audiences of either genre. But its merging of stylized action with a crime plot that demands your full attention is exactly why I love it...and, oh, do I love it.
Mann's big-screen Vice is great because it captures the spirit of the television series while avoiding even the slightest hints of kitsch, camp, or self-stroking nostalgia. Crockett, Tubbs, Lieutenant Castillo, Trudy, Gina, Zito, and Switek are all present, though radically reinterpreted for the 21st century. About the only thing they have in common with their television counterparts is that they're stone cold serious one-hundred percent of the time. This is a team of cops too damned hardcore about law enforcement to waste time with niceties like smiling (besides, smiling only undermines the slick cool of designer shades and a suit that costs more than a compact car). This time around, Tubbs is the lead cop (maybe because Jamie Foxx twisted Mann's arm to do a big screen Vice when the two were shooting Collateral). He's smart, cool, clear-headed, and morally offended by the criminals he pursues. Crockett is a second banana who sports a mullet, handlebar mustache, perpetual five o'clock shadow, and is a grade-A womanizing douche bag (as opposed to the ultra-cool super cop played by Don Johnson). Thankfully, his pet alligator is entirely absent. As a team, they're a matching set of muscled machismo with Tubbs's dutiful altruism placing a needed check on Crockett's sleazy Id.
Mann understands that the Miami Vice television phenomenon was largely an exercise in style. Rather than looking backwards a couple decades, he packs his movie to the brim with the latest-and-greatest in high fashion, expensive homes, go-fast boats, $200,000 cars, private jets, and state-of-the-art firearms. That real world cops don't have access to such things was part of the fun of the old series. That fun is carried over beautifully in the feature film. The movie is a fantasy, but a fantasy that kicks all kinds of ass because its eye candy is grounded in a gritty and logistically complex plot, an entire cast of characters (heroes and villains alike) who function in their own sphere of rarified coolness, and absolutely riveting action sequences (including a climactic shootout for the ages) that avoid cartoonish excess.
You'd think that since Mann shot Miami Vice with high def cameras, the movie would look consistently awesome on a high definition format like Blu-ray. You'd be wrong. The transfer is a mixed bag. Daytime exteriors are uniformly magnificent, sporting deep detail and vibrant colors. Nighttime shots are also impressive, offering deep blacks and excellent shadow detail. Scenes with lighting between those two extremes are sometimes impressive, sometimes flat and lifeless with murky colors and insufficient detail.
Audio, on the other hand, is spectacular. The DTS HD surround track thunders during gunfights and action sequences while handling quiet dialogue with subtle precision. Everything is carefully mixed to produce a bold but natural track. The rear soundstage is cleverly used during the climactic gunfight to place viewers in the center of the action.
Supplements include everything from the original DVD release plus the U-Control features from the now out-of-print HD DVD edition. Michael Mann provides a conversational but informative audio commentary. As director's commentaries go, they don't get much better than Mann's. He's casual and friendly while providing loads of production information. A trio of featurettes covers the pre-production phase of the movie. A second trio of shorter featurettes provides a behind-the-scenes look at the production. All of it -- with the exception of Mann's commentary -- is run-of-the-mill.
Activating the U-Control menu provides access to some slick HD-specific extras. They include picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes segments, technical specifications on the plethora of vehicles in the movie, a GPS option that uses Google Earth to show where particular scenes take place, cast biographies, and production photographs. All are accessible while watching the movie.
The only genuine disappointment I have with this release is that it doesn't contain the theatrical cut of the movie along with the director's cut. The opening boat race in the director's cut is gorgeous, and I love the inclusion of Nonpoint's cover of "In the Air Tonight" later on as a nod to the television series. But I also really dig the original theatrical version. I especially like how Mann dumps you into the middle of the action with no opening credits, forcing you to pay close attention in order to figure out what's happening. The same-day DVD release of both the theatrical and director's cuts as separate editions seemed like a cheap ploy to squeeze every last dime out of fans. The absence of the theatrical cut on this Blu-ray edition adds insult to injury.
Miami Vice isn't Heat. It's not intended to be. It's a blast of an action picture than doesn't give a rat's keester about wowing the teenage demographic. I wish there were more movies like it.
This was too good to last.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Feature Commentary by Director Michael Mann
* Miami Vice Undercover
* Miami and Beyond: Shooting on Location
* Visualizing Miami Vice
* Three Behind the Scenes Featurettes
* Picture in Picture
* Tech Specs
* Cast Bios
* Production Photographs
* Official Site