Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Miami Vice (The Movie): My Summertime Guilty Pleasure


Source: Universal Studios


I decided to break the trend of my usual anniversary year film reviews and indulge in a guilty summer movie classic as we go through the midpoint of the summer of 2017. One of my favorite movies to reflect on in the summertime is the 2006 thriller Miami Vice directed by Michael Mann. The film is an modern adaptation of the 1980's television classic that originally starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as the main characters James "Sonny" Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs. In the series, Crockett and Tubbs are vice-police officers who were sent after high profile drug dealers from various places who all centralized their activities within (or through) the Miami Dade County area of Florida in each episode. The show was known for its flashy photography, cutting edge set designs, fast cars, cigarette boats, and top Billboard chart music. The movie, starring Collin Farrell as Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, would follow a similar path to the series but in a way that was much unexpected to audiences when it was first released. 

Our story begins when Crockett & Tubbs, on assignment in a ritzy nightclub, receive a phone call from a former criminal informant who tells them he was compromised and discovered to be an informant for the police. Fearing for his life the informant reaches out to Crockett for help. When Crockett and Tubbs try to help their informant they learn that he was connected to a group working with a big-time drug trafficker named Jose Yero.  Yero operates out of Haiti and transports drugs into the United States via speed boats (also called "go-fast boats). Our heroes place themselves undercover in an effort to bring down Yero and his drug empire, but they find out early on that Yero is only a small part of a much larger, more menacing drug ring that must be stopped. Things also take a complicated turn when Crockett slowly becomes interested in Isabella, a sophisticated, intelligent woman who is a key player in the drug ring that he must bring down. Crockett and Tubbs must be at their best to try and stop one of the biggest cartels from invading the shores of Miami. 





Miami Vice received a very mixed reaction upon its release in the summer of 2006. In the early 2000's it became trendy for studios to start creating movie adaptations of television series as a way to reinvigorate interest with audiences (presumably to also create interest in sales of DVD box sets of the original shows which started flooding stores everywhere). However, most movie adaptations of television shows being released at that time were more of a spoof or comedic take of the of the original show- for example refer to 2004's Starsky & Hutch or 2005's The Dukes of Hazzard. Miami Vice, while still being an adaptation of the show, was not a comedic spoof or mock of the original show in anyway. In fact it is a very modern, up-to-date, more intense version, strongly depicting the world of narcotics law-enforcement in a way that the show would not have been able to do on network television. It would seem that most people were anticipating a lot of white linen suits, pastel shirts, 1980's pop songs, and a few comedic characters to laugh at interlaced with jokey references to the old show. With this film they receive none of those things, nor does it apologize for being what it is. What audiences instead received was an in-your-face, at times jarring, point of view style story that proceeds at break neck speed with little time to explain what has just happened or what is coming next. It can be argued that the filmmakers were a little presumptuous in assuming general audiences would know and understand some of the fast spoken lingo and and law enforcement references used in a lot of the scenes in the movie, but that just adds to its non-apologetic appeal.

Director Michael Mann had served as Executive Producer for the television series so it was only fitting that he served as a writer, producer, and director for the feature film. Mann has always had a distinctive style with his film making, particularly with epic crime dramas (who can forget 1995's Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro), and he is at the top of his game with this entry. The heavy use of the High-Def camera technology for filming at night mixed with highly stylized sets and locations place Mann's trademarks all over this film and we, as the audience, are given a visual delight. Editors William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell also bring their hard edged, slightly "Bourne Identity"  style of editing which is very effective for the context of this story and the action that comes with it. The musical score pieces for the film were mostly composed by John Murphy who cleverly infuses little nods of music from the Jan Hammer soundtrack of the TV series. There is also a cover of the famous Phil Collins hit "In The Air Tonight"  (performed by Nonpoint) which was very closely associated to the series thanks to a timeless sequence in the show's pilot episode.

As you can tell by my commentary so far I am a big fan of this movie. I remember going into the theater opening night somewhat unsure of how I would react to it; I had mostly lukewarm reactions to these modernized versions of shows that I had loved in my childhood years, but here was one time where the final result exceeded my expectations. Collin Farrell & Jamie Foxx have great chemistry together as the lead characters, the villains are seethingly evil, and honorable mention must be made about Gong Li's wonderful performance as Isabella, the woman who is torn in the middle of this war between right and wrong. I must admit that, in spite of my desire to not compare the movie to the original, it was a tough adjustment to get used to Barry Shabaka Henley as Lt. Martin Castillo over the unforgettable performance given by Edward James Olmos in the series. In defense of Mr. Henley, the role was given much more to work with in the series, but it is still the only aspect of the movie that I thought was a big setback in comparison to the show. The other members of the Vice team, with the exception of Trudy (wonderfully played by Naomi Harris), are also given menial parts in comparison to the series but that is where one must remember that this a modern take on the story and as such is not required to follow the show step for step. 

In the end Miami Vice was summarily written off as a disappointment in terms of the box office- the film earned a total of $163.8 million worldwide on a budget of $135 million which is not good in Hollywood numbers. Interestingly, the foreign box office numbers were much stronger than the final figures to come out of the U.S., but maybe other countries had not been exposed to the series as much in the past (just speculation). This is a tragic result for a very underrated film in my humble opinion. I do hope that as time passes the movie eventually gains a stronger following that respects and enjoys the movie more than audiences did in the summer of 2006. I have loved this film from the first time I saw right through the other week when I went back to watch it in preparation for this review. When the movie was released on home video in December of 2006 it was released as a "Director's Cut" which included scenes not originally shown in theaters. I did not find the Director's Cut adding much to what I already thought was a solid movie but it also did not take away from the final product either. 

I strongly recommend giving this movie a chance or, if you have let some time pass since you last saw it, giving it a look with fresh eyes. I assure you that you will be highly entertained. 

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):




Sources: 
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Vice_(film)

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