With Michael Mann, it is best to expect the unexpected or to go in knowing how his movies are to be experienced. They are not always the action packed movies they are advertised and packaged to be. If you look back at "Manhunter,” “Heat" or even "The Insider," there is actually a lot less violence as opposed to what you see in something like "The Matrix." At the same time, even without much action, they are still very compelling motion pictures to experience, and the same goes for the movie version of “Miami Vice.”
Having seen a lot of Mann's movies, however, I think it did affect my enjoyment over this one a little bit. Mann’s movies have such a distinct look from all the others, but at the same time this one sees him dealing with familiar territory. We all know that they do not veer towards happy endings but instead in chance encounters that are never meant to be and of roles people play in life that they cannot free themselves from. "Miami Vice" the movie is in that universe, and after a while, we have a good idea of how things are going to end up.
The director's cut starts off a bit differently with the movie starting off with a boat race on the ocean instead of at a nightclub. I think it’s a better start than the theatrical version as it gives us a little more breathing room before the plot (I know it's in there somewhere) kicks into action. Actually, the plot is a bit difficult to discern, and I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Basically, it involves a drug deal gone bad, and Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are put on the case to bring down a nasty drug cartel (is there any other kind?).
Crockett and Tubbs are played here by Collin Farrell and Jamie Fox, and both are very effective in their roles. They are also surrounded by a well-chosen cast which includes Barry Shabaka Henley who plays Castillo, a character not all that different from the one he played on the short lived TV series "Robbery Homicide Division" which coincidentally was executive produced by Mann.
Speaking of "Robbery Homicide Division," for those of you who were lucky enough to see it while it was on CBS, “Miami Vice” the movie resembles that more than the original TV show. Like “Robbery Homicide Division,” this movie has a very clean and clinical look, all done in high definition and without Tom Sizemore. When I first saw this movie, I thought the high definition look given to this movie was unlike anything else I had seen at the time, and it’s that look which gives this movie the edge it needs.
Also in “Miami Vice” is Gong Li who plays Isabella, the woman Crockett has a serious affair with that you know will not end well. She clearly is having trouble with her English here, but that does not change the fact that she is so damn beautiful!
It also does offer us some very cold-hearted bad guys whose physical appearances reek of evilness. Among them is Louis Tosar who plays chief drug dealer Montoya, and he does not have to do much to let you know that he is not a man to be messed with. And then there is John Ortiz who plays Jose, a man who thinks he is bad ass, but who is constantly in a position of having to prove it to anyone and everyone.
The action that “Miami Vice” does have to offer is almost on a par with the bank shootout in "Heat." There is a siege in a trailer park that drips with tension as the detectives try to retrieve their fellow officer Trudy Joplin (Naomi Harris, who steals every scene she’s in). The gunshots take on an intensity that is not always present in your average action flick. Once again, you are in Mann’s territory where nothing takes place in an imaginary world, and the violence looks and feels very real.
As for its biggest action set piece, it takes place in a dock where the cops and drug dealers meet to have their final meeting. Everyone is paranoid about the person across from them, and you can feel it coming in the air tonight (that song is practically synonymous with "Miami Vice") that something’s got to give.
I am not going to bother comparing this to the TV series because I never bothered watching it when it was on NBC. It would be pointless to anyway because this movie, aside from the characters’ names, probably doesn’t have too much in common with it. Perhaps Universal Pictures could have better prepared audiences for that as many were expecting a lot of 80’s clothing, neon signs, crazy hairstyles and Jan Hammer’s theme song when they were walking into the theater. But none of that was there, and even the theme song is nowhere to be found in the soundtrack.
As a movie, I think “Miami Vice” is good and very well made on a technical level. While it doesn’t quite measure up as well to Mann's other movies like "Heat" or "Manhunter,” it’s still much more impressive than your routine by-the-numbers action flick. At least Mann is trying for something real and authentic. Maybe the themes he deals with here are familiar ones he has explored before, but he still knows how to explore them and to keep us watching in the process.
I also have to thank Michael Mann for introducing me to Goldfrapp whose song "Strict Machine" is featured on the movie’s soundtrack. A sexy vocal applied to electronic music is a very appealing combination to me. Who knows if I would have discovered this band without their music being in this movie?