Wow. Just wow. I didn’t see this one coming at all. Judging from the trailers and the early look presented last weekend on NBC (after a replay of the original Pilot Episode of Miami Vice), this thing looked like ass. Complete ass. Terrible one liners delivered by actors who looked like they wish they were anywhere but filming this movie, thumping music video editing and HD shot at night for that shot on video feel. But man is their promotion way off the mark. I don’t know if this has been spearheaded by someone who is too close to the film to see how bad this looks out of context or whether the Studio wanted it to look as slick and poppy as the TV series was – but either way, what they’re sellin’ ain’t what they’re deliverin’. Because Miami Vice is pretty fucking kick ass.
This is a dark, brooding, nihilistic action film that absolutely delivers on the promise of Michael Mann’s name in the credits. It’s rough, seedy and violent in all of the very best ways. This ain’t no pop-culture throwback, nor is it any kind of popcorn film – it’s a brutal ass kicker with pen in hand, ready to take names.
While this is by no means an absolutely perfect film (I’ll get to the flaws in a moment), everything in the trailer is so taken out of context that it hurts. Those one-liners that feel like cheesy dialog work 100% of the time in the film. This is the story of two guys trying to infiltrate a world in which every encounter is a pissing contest to prove who could fuck the other up the most and these lines perfectly nail the sense of bravado and nigh ridiculous machismo of that world. These guys are tired, they’re bitter, and what seems like a lack of performance in the trailer is actually Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell playing their roles to the hilt. These aren’t superheroes. They’re cops, doing a shitty and incredibly dangerous job, and it’s worn them down to the nub. And every bit of that shows in their expressions and delivery.
And man does the HD work in this film. Now I’m certainly not the worlds biggest fan of HD. I simply think it’s not there yet. It still isn’t delivering the depth of field and the grain of 35mm. But the almost documentary like feel of the cinematography in this makes it raw, seething, like it’s really happening. It feels incredibly authentic. From the very natural sound design to many of the handheld shots, Miami Vice gains its power from a sense of realism absent in films of this type.
Making this even more realistic and -oddly enough - even more exciting, is the way the film is constructed. Unlike both the original show and modern action films, Miami Vice defies the normal conventions of car chase/gun fight/car chase/buddy comedy scene/gunfight/car chase and instead builds tension through a sense of impending doom. The villains in this film don’t fuck around, not one bit. There’s no hitting heroes over the back of the head or explaining complex plots. If these guys so much as get a tingle in their extremities, they’ll cap you just to be sure you don’t fuck them over. Mann does an excellent job of establishing this right from the get go, so there’s never a doubt in your mind.
The result is a slow burn film that draws you in as these guys go deeper and deeper into their operation, every moment being a moment closer to the heavies catching on. And when violence does break out, it simply explodes. It’s quick, deadly and bloody, bloody, bloody. Arms being torn off by 50 Caliber bullets bloody. Puffs of blood popping out of the back of the skull bloody. Michael Mann seems to sucker punch you with every violent scene, squeezing out every last bit of possible impact from each death. Nothing here is wasted.
And the story is actually pretty damned good. It’s an operation. That’s it. It’s not some twisty, turny, paint by number plot. It begins with the introduction of the operation and proceeds to take you every step of the way from the set up of cover identities, to getting the introductions, to the crimes the cops have to commit to earn the trust of their new employers. And every last moment of it is fascinating.
But this comes with some love it or leave it concepts that’s really going to make or break your feelings on the film. First of all, it’s called Miami Vice. It explores the particularly dark themes the show attempted but was never able to truly attain on prime time television. It’s about a pair of vice cops named Crockett and Tubbs. And it is set in Miami. But if you’re hoping for an update that includes many of the old side characters and long running jokes (Like Elvis the Alligator on Sonny’s houseboat) than you are pretty much SOL. Now its handled in such a way that is doesn’t remove those elements from this universe, but it certainly ignores them. Sonny could have an Alligator on a houseboat, but we’ll never know because we never see Sonny at home. The film is entirely about them on the job.
And as gritty and dark as this gets, it never has a sense of humor about itself. There’s one moment of comedy in the whole film and thus there are no breaks from the heavy nature of it, no shining rays of humanity to break the tension. Some, like myself, will love that – appreciating the grim, shadowy world these guys hate so much to be a part of. For others, it’s just going to be way too heavy. The show had a sense of humor. This doesn’t. Another thing some fans will miss.
My one complaint, which is going to sound odd, is that I didn’t like the sex scenes in the film. Not that I was offended by them in any way – just that they seemed to come out of nowhere at times when I’d much rather be immersed in the story. And I’d just like to point out that I shower every god damned day of my life. Every day. These guys, they shower like once every three weeks – and every time they do, some beautiful naked woman strolls in to interrupt. Seriously, Mann. As real as everything else is presented…that’s where you break from reality? Unless I just need to get one of those big fucking showers. So let me ask you Mike, does the Asian come standard, or is that an add on?
Regardless of your feelings on any of these issues, the one thing this film will get you with is its climax. Wait, should I really have gone to this part of the review after the shower bit? Fuck it, just keep on truckin’ Massa. Miami Vice builds to one hell of a third act with the last 20 minutes becoming a frenetic, chaotic chain of violence that will simply drop your jaw at times. It’s edge of your seat the whole way to the end. And it delivers above all else.
Highly recommended for Michael Mann fans, cop and action film buffs, and anyone looking for a dark alternative to all the mainstream fare that comes with Summertime at the Box Office. Not recommended for old school fans of the show who are really hoping for a stream of TV show references, in jokes or riffs about the clothing.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.