Collateral. Traffic. Heat. The Insider. Ali. Michael Mann possesses a resume filled with movies like these – excellent, high-quality films with popular appeal. Knowing this, I went into Miami Vice with high expectations, notwithstanding my reservations regarding the casting of Colin Farrell. Perhaps it was because of those high expectations that the mediocrity of the film was so disappointing. Yes, the aviators are stylish; yes, the boats are sleek and fast; but the plot is unintelligible.
Miami Vice opens as Detectives James ‘Sonny’ Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) and their team, including Tubbs’s lover Trudy (Naomie Harris) are in the midst of a sting operation in a nightclub. Before anything happens, however, Crockett receives a frantic call from undercover agent Alonzo Stevens (John Hawkes), whose wife has been kidnapped and who has therefore compromised his assignment. At least, I think that that’s what happened, but the details don’t really matter: the stage is set for Ricardo and Tubbs to begin an operation to uncover the mole in the Miami Police Department that gave Alonzo away. From there, the plot takes off in a scattered and completely illogical way. Crockett and Tubbs go undercover, meeting drug lord Josè Yero (John Ortiz), the man Yero is working for, a man named Arcángel de Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar), and Montoya’s female counterpart Isabella (Gong Li). Mixed in is a messy and unexplained romance between Isabella and Crockett, several deals gone awry, and many other incomprehensible and never fully-explained events.
The cast is for the most part very talented, and it’s a shame to see them wasted on a script that so closely resembles a block of Swiss cheese. Foxx is successful as Tubbs, bringing a great deal of emotional depth below his suave, cool exterior. Farrell – who is really the main character of the film – is better than expected, but Mann made a mistake in resting the weight of the movie on him; his Crockett is a conflicted, jaded man who is beginning to lose sight of the line between right and wrong. Neither he nor Li, who otherwise does quite well as the tough-as-nails Isabella, is quite able to render believable the romance between their characters. Rounding out the central cast, John Ortiz is thoroughly enjoyable in the few scenes that we see him as the treacherous Josè Yero. Although Foxx easily turns in the best performance, for the most part the rest of them do creditably well.
Undoubtedly, though, the best moments are when no one is speaking and Mann pulls back from the action, building momentum and tension through his excellent cinematography and music. Throughout most of the film, the audience is being assaulted by information, plot, and dialogue that don’t really cohere; it is when Mann slows down that good things start to happen. It is this slow build that has made his past movies so effective, but in Miami Vice he tried to put too much in, and the result is a movie that despite being two and a half hours long seems rushed and undeveloped. A better script would have rescued it, but as it stands all that can be said of it is that it is a sub-par effort from an excellent director.
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