Twelve years after it came out in theaters, I’ve seen Miami vice, the 2006 movie directed by Michael Mann. Yes, Michael Mann, the same director of Heat (1995) with De Niro and Pacino. So of course I had great expectations, also because the two protagonists are Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx! Let’s say that it would have been better if I had lower expectations… but let’s take this step by step!
Why was this movie done? The idea for the movie goes back to the 1984-1990 TV series with the same name for which Michael Mann was executive producer. That series is still considered one of the most innovative at the time, with an interesting use of music (a lot of guitar, a lot of 80s’ new wave), and with amazing special effects. There were a lot of motorboats and helicopters, there was no shortage of explosions, and the protagonists drove a Ferrari. I remember this series as a ‘weird’ one: Don Johnson in some episodes was acting like a real bad guy, something that I now assume it was due to his being an undercover cop. In the other series of that time, the distinction between the good cop and the bad criminal was always clear: T.J. Hooker, Magnum P.I., Hunter (yes, I do remember Hunter!)… all those series were much simpler. Miami vice wasn’t, possibly also due to the presence of Michael Mann in the production team.
And maybe this is also THE issue with Miami vice, the 2006 movie. The movie also contains lots of explosions, motorboats and helicopters, shootouts, the protagonists drive a Ferrari and work as undercover cops, the music is nothing short of spectacular and perfect for the time (it starts with Linkin Park in the very first scene, and throughout the movie we hear, among others, Audioslave and Moby)… and that’s it. It almost seems that Mann was happy enough to recreate the elements that proved to be key for the series that he produced twenty years before, and didn’t even try to work on the elements that are necessary to make a good movie. His movie works only as a revival of the series, but not as a stand-alone product. In other words, it could be a long episode of a series that we are already familiar with, but as a movie it doesn’t work at all.
So, what works in the movie? The direction, obviously, even if I believe that Mann went too far with the hand-held camera work. One example is a very calm dialogue between Foxx and his wife (Naomie Harris) in which the camera moves as if there was a firefight, even zooming on the faces of the two who are saying things like: “I’m hungry”, “Do you want a sandwich, sweetie?”. But if Mann likes it, who am I to criticize him? The photography is also really well done, and I guess that it wasn’t easy since this was one of the first high budget movies shot entirely in digital (I don’t envy the director of photography!). And the action and the music are brilliant.
All the problems of the movie lie in the screenplay, from the plot to the lack of characterization. The characters are not properly introduced. There is nothing telling the viewer why we should care about Farrell and Foxx, nothing justifying why they are so close (not only colleagues, but best friends). We know nothing about Farrell, and we only know that Foxx has a wife. I think that Mann thought that he could skip the characterization part thanks to the existence of the series, but a movie should be a stand-alone product, and viewers should not be expected to know the 111 Miami vice episodes that came out twenty years before! This lack of characterization produces a whole series of problems that generate the classical “WTF?” question in the mind of the viewers as the plot unravels.
At the beginning of the movie, the two protagonists are brutally sent on an undercover mission to dismantle a drug cartel. In Central America they meet one of the drug trafficker and also the wife (Gong Li) of the head of the cartel (a horrendously under-used Luis Tosar). After this meeting, love blossoms between Farrell and Gong Li: a sudden, intense, and passionate love! Without any reason nor justification! It’s so weird that at the beginning I was asking myself: “Is he faking it in order to get to the drug lord? In order to provoke him and arrest him?” No, we are supposed to believe that it’s real love. This is so crucial for the plot and is such a hugely clunky contrivance that the whole movie suffers tremendously.
In the meanwhile what is Foxx doing? He brings his wife to a bar owned by one of the drug traffickers to drink something, why not? At the end of the day, those traffickers are lovely persons, aren’t they? I’m not suggesting that Foxx should have faked his own death to protect his family as Commissioner Gordon did in The Dark Knight (2008), but at least he shouldn’t have brought his wife into the nest of vipers! And what happens next? She gets kidnapped! What a surprise! And Foxx doesn’t even seem too concerned. Ok, of course he saves her, but he doesn’t show any emotion. Maybe he used them all to gain the Oscar for Ray the year before. And I’m not saying that Foxx is a bad actor, I’m just saying that I believe that he had little material to work with! Even when his wife explodes five meters from him (by the way, that is the only badly-done special effect in the entire movie, with the rest of gunshots and explosions all done practically with great results), Foxx doesn’t react too much. There is not a single line of dialogue between the best friends Farrell and Foxx commenting that! But you get my point, let’s finalize the review…
So, the characters are only rough sketches and the plot doesn’t make any sense. Thus, even if the product is well-packaged, Miami vice is not a good movie. It’s a pity, because it is clear that a lot of attention went into certain things, but almost no effort went into, unfortunately crucial, others. For example, the work done with real undercover cops is noticeable. A DVD extra shows a shocked Farrell recounting a meeting in which he accompanied an undercover cop to speak with real drug traffickers, a meeting in which firearms were almost pulled out (only afterwards he was told that there were no real drug traffickers, but all the persons involved were cops). The scenes taking place in Central America were shot in location, and once they all heard real gunshots and the production was halted for a few days. Foxx refused to keep on shooting there because it was too dangerous! And, at the cost of repeating myself: the music is great! But even all this won’t convince me to suggest you to watch Miami vice. There are better crime films out there! Ciao!