August 30, 2006

Miami Vice

miamiviceMichael Mann has written a plot steeped in the classic tropes of the "Miami Vice" TV show, and directed a feature film with the same ruthless cool and no-bullshit efficiency of his previous crime epics, Collateral and Heat. Mann "filmed" this movie with digital cameras, which once again, just like Collateral, lends superior authenticity to the action. The digital video + muddled dialog recording = a minimum of artifiice. It's true that I didn't understand a lot of the dialog, especially with all the foreign accents, but the details of the dialog was not as important as the atmosphere, and I really enjoyed breathing it in.

The movie concludes with a climactic firefight, not as long or legendary as the bank heist in Heat, but expertly and imaginatively staged. I am reminded of the nightclub confrontation in Collateral, which could easily have been confusing and muddled, but instead was intuitive and engaging. This final gun battle in Miami Vice, however, adds some new tricks, which I appreciated: at one point, when a gunsel gets shot, his blood spatters the hand-held camera behind him. The cameraman then moves over to another spot where one of his associates is still firing, and later, moves again, all with blood dripping on the lens. My description makes it sound gory and cheap, but it was not- the digital hand-held quality made it feel more like authentic documentary footage.

Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx acquit themselves well, although Emily is totally turned off my Farrell's doughy scumbag look. I tried explaining that he is playing an undercover cop who's trying to look like a scumbag, but she wouldn't have it. Academy-Award winner Jamie Foxx's "Ricardo Tubbs" character was fleshed out a bit from the TV show. On TV, all too often Phillip Michael Thomas simply supported Don Johnson, brandished a shotgun, and occasionally lapsed into a Jamaican accent as his undercover role required.

Many of the small parts were well cast, including Justin Theroux as Detective Zito, Barry Shabaka Henley as Lt. Castillo, and John Hawkes as a confidential informant. We had some issues, however, with other casting choices-- I felt John Ortiz was too lightweight as the drug kingpin whose jealousy sparks a murderous betrayal, and Chinese actress Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha, Farewell My Concubine, Raise the Red Lantern)? Her accent is nearly indecipherable, despite multiple credited dialog coaches. I never really felt any actual passion between Gong Li and Colin Farrell. After a few scenes, I started casting other "exotic" actresses in my head for the role: Franka Potente? Too young. Michelle Yeoh? Too old. Monica Bellucci? Not brainy enough. Emmanuelle BĂ©art, Audrey Tautou? Too French.

I can't give this movie an A grade because the story doesn't break any new ground from the TV show, and is a little threadbare in spots. B plus... (Arlington Capitol Theater)

NOTE:If you have not been watching the reruns of the original series (1984-89) on TV Land, you have been missing out on some prime mid-80s nostalgia!