The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Miami Vice

Running for five seasons and 111 episodes on NBC between 1984 and 1990, Miami Vice was a show that helped rewrite the cop television show. Splashy, stylish and colorful, it not only rewrote the genre but more importantly helped re-energize the genre. The impact is easily seen in just about any police procedural released in the years since. So what's the follow-up? Well, naturally an unnecessary film adaptation, 2006's Miami Vice.

Working on a sting operation of a prostitution ring, Miami-Dade police officers Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are called away suddenly when a former informant they've used calls them, talking wildly of a case among all sorts of nasty folks has gone seriously wrong. That case -- with FBI, DEA, drug cartels, Aryan Brothers, and many more involved -- goes poorly quickly, but Crockett and Tubbs get pulled into it as well, the longtime friends and detectives choosing to go deep undercover to hopefully pick up where the previously botched case left off. Can they somehow pull it off? The odds are stacked against them, and if things go poorly again, they've no one to get them out of the situation but themselves. And with all sorts of unsavory sorts involved -- including a potential leak within a government agency -- nothing is easy about this undercover case.

What a mess of a movie....and that's coming from someone who likes the finished product almost in spite of itself. This 2006 adaptation comes from director (and writer/producer) Michael Mann, an executive producer of the original television show and the director of Heat, Collateral, Ali, Last of the Mohicans and several others to his name. The film went way over budget, filming was less than pleasant with some cast drama, and it received middling to poor reviews. The criticisms are all valid with the main one being pretty obvious. Mann wrote the script...if it existed. It's hard to tell. Slow-moving scenes broken up by some intense staring and then a shootout extraordinaire finale. And yes, to repeat, I like this movie.

Story is overrated to the point of being unnecessary in Mann's film. Above all else, S-T-Y-L-E is key. He filmed in digital, giving 'Vice' an equal parts gritty, in your face look with a more polished, clean look. Filming locations in Florida, the Caribbean, Uruguay, Paraguay, they look phenomenal. This is a movie that doesn't have that overall clean, blockbuster feel. It is shot in the darkness and shadows like we're watching the real thing take place. You add in an eclectic soundtrack with everything from Audioslave to Moby and a lot of others mixed in along with a soft, almost trance-like score from composer John Murphy, and the little things come together nicely. Mann's ability as a visual director is never in question in my book. His movies look great and he composes shots with ease and talent, making it look almost effortless. The problem is when it is all style and basically no story.

I've seen a handful of the original Miami Vice episodes -- my parents watched it -- but I know the gist of the show. Mann decided to go out on a limb in many ways, but most importantly, in terms of character. Crockett and Tubbs are friends, buddies, partners in arms. Farrell and Foxx's version? There's decent chemistry between the two Miami-Dade detectives, but we're given no character/relationship background at any point so it's hard to root for them. Farrell gets far more screen-time (rarely a bad thing) as apparently Foxx was incredibly difficult to work with on-set, but it doesn't amount to much. Instead of flesh and blood characters, we get stylish anti-heroes, cops who know how to look cool, how to do a slow-motion walk like a champ, how to walk away from an explosion, how to have menacing conversations where nothing of said is of actual significance. Oh, and yes, I still liked this movie.

This ain't a cop story. It's a stylish, quasi-artsy cop movie with some odd detours, especially Farrell's Crockett falling hard for Isabella (Li Gong), an international drug dealer's right-hand woman. They go to Cuba, dance, drink and make sweet, passionate love in an extended sequence that accomplishes little. Meanwhile, Tubbs watches out for Trudy (Naomie Harris), his girlfriend and member of the team. Cue shower and sex scene! There is some charm in the Crockett/Isabella story, a doomed relationship that you know won't end well. Mann knows a doomed anti-hero better than anyone and Farrell embraces that character, the moody, almost sullen cop who begins to question what he's doing and the lengths he'll have to go to. I just wish there had been even a little character development other than passionate dance scenes and lots of meaningful looks and intense glances among characters.

Who else to look for? Along with Harris, the Crockett and Tubbs' team includes Justin Theroux, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Domenick Lombardozzi with Ciaran Hinds and Barry Shabaka Henley as two key superior officers. John Ortiz is excellent as Jose Yero, a cartel middle-man who suspects Crockett and Tubbs aren't what they're claiming with Luis Tosar as the drug czar hidden away in the Central American jungle. Also look for John Hawkes and Eddie Marsan in small parts.

So in the end, what can I say? I liked the movie. It's cool. Even though it takes itself far too seriously and has absolutely no sense of humor (there's maybe 3 smiles in the entire movie), it is fun. I thought Farrell was pretty good and carries things through its slower portions, especially with his dreamy hair and epic mustache. The style is cool, Mann assembling it all with ease in almost effortless fashion, albeit at the expense of the story. Things build nicely to a bone-thudding finale as an all-out war breaks out on a dock in the dead of night with heavy-duty automatic weapons tearing the silence open. The ending itself is weak, just kinda ends and boom, CREDITS! It isn't a very good movie -- more Blackhat than Heat unfortunately -- but I found myself entertained throughout. A measured final say.

Miami Vice (2006): ** 1/2 /****

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