Merrick is frightened by pink flamingos...
Lloyd Dobler Kicks Ass (one of the more awkward pseudonyms we’ve seen in a while) sent in this review from a recent test screening of Michael Mann’s MIAMI VICE (trailer here).
Needless to say, this film is not a literal port of Mann’s pastel-laden, design-conscious 1980s television series – it’s more like VICE by way of HEAT, or COLLATERAL. VICE is even photographed using some of the night-photography tech that made COLLATERAL look (and feel) so distinctive.
Interestingly enough, nearly all feedback I’ve gotten from this test screening has been remarkably consistent: MIAMI VICE is well on the way to greatness, but needs some serious trimming and tweaking to get there. Many sequences are said to be redundant or repetitive, some need to be punched-up, and it's said to be a bit “too long” (pushing 2 ½ hours). In other words, there’s apparently little here that can’t be fixed editorially. Which is good, and totally fair, as this screening was presented as a rough cut…there’s still time for fine tuning.
I love Michael Mann. I adore his artistry…his profound understanding of how strongly music can impact a narrative (an art that seems to be lost to all but a few these days). As uneven as LAST OF THE MOHICANS can be, Nathaniel Poe charging through the forest to Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman’s soaring score can really get the adrenaline going. Does anyone out there remember THE KEEP, a brooding Mann film that starred Scott Glen and the captain from DAS BOOT? Nazis in a citadel inhabited by a freaky creature – and a score by Tangerine Dream. Crazy stuff.
Wonder how VICE will work out? Will Sonny Crockett still have a pet alligator? Probably not. Will any visage of Jan Hammer’s bizarre score remain in tact (this isn’t a slam…I own nearly all of Hammer’s available MIAMI VICE music) by the time the movie hits theaters? I’m guessing it won’t, and perhaps it shouldn’t. How will this VICE feel without Admiral Adama bossing around the good guys?
So many questions…here’s Lloyd Dobler Kicks Ass with a few answers…
Miami Vice was easily the film I'd been looking forward to most this year. Fuck Da Vinci Code, or X3, or T.J. Mackey's latest spank-fest/Scientology brainwashing device. Hell, I'm even going to go ahead and say "Fuck" to the remake of All the King's Men. Not because it looks like a bad movie or anything, but really just to throw a "classier" pic in with all the summer tripe. I don't know why I put Miami Vice at the head of the class. I didn't really care for the TV show that much; I thought it was cheesy and leagues behind Mann's far superior Crime Story and Robbery Homicide Division. But what do I know- those both flopped, and Vice became this cultural phenomenon.
Maybe it had to do with Mann's work. I think he is easily one of the three best directors working today. His scripts (especially dialogue) can be a little stale, but the man (Mann?) is a true visual genius, kinda like a more street Terrence Malick. And with the exception of Ali and the dreadful The Keep, he's got a pretty impressive body of work, full of films that get better and better on repeat viewings (The Insider, Manhunter, and Collateral being the best examples). Couple all that with a shooting style that promised to push his HD work on Collateral even further, and a cast headlined by two media whores but supported by a galaxy of awesome character actors (Barry Shabaka Henley, Gong Li, the modern-day gods known to us mortals as Justin Theroux and Ciaran Hinds, and my future wife, Naomie Harris), and it's safe to say that I was strongly showing my anticipation for this one (and by "strongly showing" I mean "walking around with an erection all day"). Oh yeah, and the trailer kicked fucking ass. So when I got the chance to see it, well...it's safe to say I didn't say "No."
And the verdict?
It's...okay. Potentially really pretty great (but more on that in a little bit) but just "okay" right now.
The plot seems to be straight out of the TV show: Miami Vice Detectives Crockett and Tubbs go deep undercover to infiltrate an international drug trafficking ring, only to have their personal lives come crashing head-on into the mix. I'm not being vague on purpose, that's really the whole kit and caboodle of it all. First off, though, let me tell you that for good or ill, the film is really nothing like the TV show. They're both called Miami Vice, and some of the character names are the same, but that's about it. I got a feeling that a lot of the criticism that we're gonna see for this film could be quelled by renaming it and the characters (a la what some proposed for the Dawn of the Dead remake), but unfortunately, that ain't gonna happen.
First and foremost, this film is another testament to Mann's skill as a filmmaker. I think that, visually, this is the most accomplished of all his films, despite the roughness of it at this stage (more on this later, again). He's captured Miami in a way that's hard to describe; he doesn't go the Scarface or Any Given Sunday path of playing up the glitz and lights to an extreme degree, but he really doesn't de-emphasize it either. And to make things more confusing, he's not playing for a middle ground either. He, and maybe it's the HD cameras, gives everything an ethereal quality that makes Miami feel alien, like he did to LA in Collateral but to an even greater degree here. I'd equate it to the feeling you get driving through orange lit streets at night.
A lot of people have commented on how foreboding the film itself seems from the trailer, and that’s due, in no small part, to the cinematography. Shit, I blow at conveying it here, so just go see it. A lot of people were bitching about the constant use of handheld cameras, but I actually thought it gave the film a real immediacy and was never overdone like in The Bourne Supremacy (a film many were unfavorably comparing the camerawork to).
And that immediacy is easily the best thing about the film. There's a real visceral charge in every scene of the film, from Crockett and Tubbs driving through Miami or moving through a club or racing speedboats (an awesome scene, and shot with such skill and intensity you forget that the speedboat chases were the cheesiest parts of the show) or flying dope over Colombia. Mann puts you right in the thick of things, even in scenes when there’s not a lot of action. To be honest, I see many people griping about that too. This isn’t an “action film,” per say. It’s a police procedural, like so many of Mann’s work. But when he does need to bring the noise, you get the funk.
Like in a shootout that rivals the heist scene shootout in Heat.
Oh my god, this scene rocks so fucking goddamn hard it’s not even funny. I mean it. Again, a simple setup. A sting/surveillance goes horribly awry, and Crockett and Tubbs (and the cops) are pitted against the drug dealers. Simple. Yeah, right. This scene is a small masterpiece of sound and violence and kinetic charge. Mann’s use of space and geography is unparalleled here, as even though all hell is breaking loose, we never get confused about the particulars of who’s shooting and where. Plus, it’s all taking place at night! I guarantee you, THIS scene is the reason Mann decided to do this film (other than the dump truck of money delivered to his house), if only for the chance to stage a complex, intense, and exciting gunfight in (at times) near-total darkness (at times it was reminiscent of the first gunfight from Equilibrium. I’d like to think Mann was referencing it on purpose, but I doubt it). HD rocks, man, and this gunfight is proof positive. The biggest complaint here was that Crockett and Tubbs move more like trained Navy Seals than like Miami cops, but honestly, they’re eons more believable than Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in those “other” Miami Cop movies.
For the most part, the acting’s quite solid. Ever since he decided that “Unpredictable” was the best thing to happen to R&B since Teddy Pendergrass (it’s not. John Legend, however, is. His album’s so good it’s not even funny, but I digress), Foxx and his ego have been annoying the shit out of me, but he’s good here. He’s not “Ray” good, and despite his top-billing he’s really playing second banana to Farrell’s Crockett, but he provides good support, tough and charming and all that jazz, but all in that underplayed Michael Mann way. As for Colin Farrell, well, I’m of two minds. On one hand, his tortured and intense work as Crockett works far better than the smug airlessness Don Johnson brought to the role, and he’s certainly very physically persuasive. Yet I was always aware of Farrell working overtime to seem “tortured and intense.” He was good, don’t get me wrong, and maybe some of that work might have been representative of the stress his character was going through, but I wonder how an actor like Josh Holloway or Mark Ruffalo would have been in the part. Concerning the chemistry between the two- it’s definitely there, but it’s more akin to the DeNiro/Kilmer relationship in Heat, i.e. gestures, shorthand, and body language to show closeness rather than one-liners.
The rest of the cast is solid, with only Naomie Harris as the weakest link. She’s gorgeous, but as Tubbs’ kidnapped long-suffering girlfriend, she really doesn’t have much to do. As Castillo, Henley basically redoes his work on Robbery Homicide Division, but he’s skilled at it, and it’s nice to see a police lieutenant in a cop movie that isn’t gunning for the hero’s badge. Hinds plays an FBI agent whose name I missed, and he’s always a treat to see, but frankly, he’s a little wasted- he’s just doing the standard tight-ass Bureau official. He does it well enough, I guess, but after Munich and Rome, I expect a lot from him. Taking over from John Diehl as Larry Zito, Theroux was really good. His Zito’s kind of an adrenaline junkie who genuinely enjoys his work (unlike Crockett), and while he’s a little too subdued to steal the movie, his energy is fun during his limited screentime. Gong Li is terrific, though. Much like her work in Memoirs of a Geisha, she takes a clichÃ©d role (here it’s the “bad girl” currently involved with Crockett who had a previous history with the main baddie) and brings this raw intensity and sexuality to it. And a certain tenderness too; one scene in particular, where Crockett and her lie in bed during a romantic “time-out” in Cuba and just talk about how they ended up where they did in this stage of their lives, Li brings a real warmth and sensuality that’s quite disarming, especially in the middle of this epic police drama. You almost wish the movie could center on the relationship between these two.
Now, I called this an “okay” movie that could be great. Right now, it is in no way ready to be released. Some of its problems are technical-there were some unfinished effects shots (mostly bullet hits that needed to be CGI’ed in, and a dodgy explosion), some unprocessed camera work, and a temp score (that was well-done- Lotta electronica, some salsa-esque stuff, and some good rap, but, alas, no Jay-Z and Linkin Park), but I’m sure that stuff will be fixed by the July release date. It’s the length of the movie that worries me the most. The cut I saw was 2.5 hours long, and it felt longer than Heat was. This is a movie that cries out to be a lean and mean 2 hours long. Like Collateral- that was two hours long, and it hustled along.
I think cutting Miami Vice down is doable; the first half is incredibly repetitive. Basically, this chain of events is repeated over and over: Crockett and Tubbs meet a group of drug dealers, convince them they’re not cops, and infiltrate deeper into the criminal network. It may be realistic police procedure, but it gets boring after a while. I’d keep half of what’s there now and the speedboat race, and ditch the rest.
Also, the big shootout happens just after the halfway point, and it’s so good that nothing after it really reaches the same level of intensity. The shootout at the end is good, but it’s just not as good, so as a result, the second half of the film suffers a bit. But hey, that’s what they pay editors to figure out. I just work in a bread store.
I really think this one has the potential to be a winner, provided Mann and Co. do some judicious cutting. As it stands, it’s good but flawed, but I’d be really surprised if it premiered in theaters as is. Still, just don’t go expecting Miami Vice the TV show, and you should be fine.