Sunday, December 17, 2006

Miami Vice

The movie business, like most areas of the entertainment industry, loves a good re-invention. Hollywood remakes have been hitting the multiplex screens in their droves of late, and the focus has recently shifted to contemporary updating of familiar, but dated tv shows: Bewitched, The Dukes of Hazzard, the troubled - but apparently imminent - Dallas, and of course Michael Mann's recent re-mix of Miami Vice. Now, this list should demonstrate that the TV-to-movie adaptation hasn't exactly produced a string of roaring box-office successes to date. Indeed, audiences are often reluctant to buy into what they perceive to be another re-hash of an old idea.

However, Michael Mann, the director of Miami Vice, is a genuine Hollywood heavyweight. (Think 'Manhunter', 'The Insider' and of course 'Heat'). This is a man who can squeeze an oscar-nomination-worthy performance out of Will Smith (Ali) and who in 'Collateral' successfully experimented with landmark digital photography techniques, bringing Los Angeles to life on the big screen to visually stunning effect. The critics loved Collateral, and it seemd Mann could pick and choose his projects on the foot of this success.

So why then, would he choose to remake Miami Vice? Well, I'm not sure I can provide an answer to that question and to be honest, I'm not sure if the movie can either. The contemporising of a franchise that is so emblematic of 1980's America can only have been something of a personal challenge and labour of love for the director, who has a close relationship with Miami Vice, having produced many episodes of the tv show early in his career.

The movie version of Miami Vice does not bear much resemblance to world populated by Don Johnson's sleeves, that Jan Hammer soundtrack, and all the associated trappings of 80's extravagance. No, this is a grittier more modern world altogether, and this Tubs and Crockett are most certainly not a buddy buddy partnership a la Lethal Weapon. Neither is theirs a frosty-at-first, but thanks to surviving a few scrapes, actually best mates scenario, in the vein of the Die Hard movies. Mann has avoided obvious cliches in the relationship between Sonny (Colin Farrell) and Rico (Jamie Foxx) and this is something I enjoyed about the movie. The closest the two come to a buddy moment is in the build-up to their final showdown scene, where they exchange a few terse words, and, as Colin Farrell starts the Ferrari, a quick handshake. I got the feeling as the two lads exchanged the odd macho word with each other that perhaps Mann was aiming for a knowing familiarity between the two, and a relationship that meant they didn't need to constantly ask what the other was thinking. Indeed, the line "where you at?" is exchanged between the two only a couple of times, despite the almost absurd complexity of what they are routinely faced with in the course of their undercover work.

While Mann has avoided the cliched two-dimensional caricatures of action heroes with his two Miami Vice leads, I was left a little cold by Colin and Jamie. The knowing familiarity between the two characters would perhaps have been better portrayed by two actors who knew each other well, and I got the impression Farrell and Foxx lacked a little of that kind of chemistry themselves.

In terms of their other on-screen relationships, Farrell shares some of his best scenes with the really quite beautiful Gong Li, and although these are pretty hot and heavy more often than not, the two characters at least develop something approaching a relationship. It's in these scenes with Gong Li that Farrell demonstrates his acting ability, rather than simply using his disguise of that truly shocking handlebar moustache, designer mullet and gravelly voice.

Foxx, too has a love interest, but they aren't really given much of a chance in the movie to share anything except a few soft-focus moments, so this relationship was less interesting for me, and one which I always felt was building up to a moment where Foxx cried "noooo!!". (This didn't happen in the movie by the way!)

However, the action scenes, as you would expect from Michael Mann, are expertly crafted. There is a shootout sequence that is very reminiscent of Heat, but modernised, and with more of a feel of the beach in 'Saving Private Ryan' than a Miami dockside, and this was the strongest action sequence for me. However, the tension is always high, as the two lads get further involved with the criminals they are trying to take down, the tempo of the action moves along nicely.

The movie looks amazing, and at times is genuinely breathtaking. Mann has a unique celluloid signature, and his sweeping shots of Venezuelan waterfalls, beachside mansions, and of course the night-time cityscapes of Miami fill the screen and are as cinematic as you are likely to see.

The plot of Miami Vice is tight enough, and the action rolls along with nary a dull moment. Both love interests are involved in the action, and both Sonny and Rico have a lot at stake as the inevitable climactic bullet-fest approaches. The logistical detail of the crime syndicate is dense, and is believable if a little fantastic. However the 'baddies' are basically just that, and are little more than two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. The vice squad themselves though, are believable enough in their roles, in particular the unlikely chief who does a better than decent job.

So, a solid enough actioner then? Well, yes, but like much of the decade of the 80's, it was a little shallow for my liking. Miami Vice is heavily reliant on the performances of its two male leads and, while Farrell was debatably the stronger of the two, I wouldn't single out either as being exceptional. Farrell's accent is particularly annoying, and he mumbles much of his dialogue in a gravelly southern drawl that almost makes him incomprehensible. He is good in the scenes where some vulnerability is required, but not so strong at the action hero routine... My advice for Colin is: try another comedy mate. All these earnest performances are fine, but in my book, his two best performances have been in the excellent 'Intermission' and as Bullseye in the otherwise appaling 'Daredevil'.

One thing the re-make of Miami Vice has in common with another franchise reboot - Casino Royale - is the presence of Chris Cornell on the soundtrack, this time in his more usual day job with Audioslave. Cornell himself is going through a bit of a renaissance lately, so perhaps his presence in these two remakes is no accident. Perhaps the theme of reinvention is moot however, as although Casino Royale left the audience wanting more from Bond, I unfortunately don't think the same can be said for Miami Vice.

The Verdict: Slick and polished, but ultimately shallow. If this movie was a decade, it would be the 80's.
Rating: 6/10

1 comment:

pj said...

overall a balanced review paddy. i enjoyed the film, but thought the poor casting of fox and farrell was the it's main downfall. i didn't really care if either of them died!
i would give it 7/10 myself.

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