Saturday, July 29, 2006

Reel To Reel: Miami Vice

"Vice" with more vices.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx
Rated: R
Red Flags: Intense Violence, Moderate Language, Sexual Situations, Male & Female Nudity

Michael Mann executive produced the original Miami Vice, one of the coolest TV shows ever. The movie version, which he penned and directed, turns up the coolness and kills the lights. Detectives Sonny Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Foxx) work harder and more dangerously with little time for wit or style. We see no mention of Crockett's pet alligator. He doesn't even say "pal" once.

The picture opens with a federal drug sting gone bad. Two agents are gunned down along with the family of a trusted confidential informant. Somebody has been leaking information about federal anti-narcotics operations to drug runners. But that somebody could be anywhere from the FBI to the Coast Guard. Out of the loop, Crockett and Tubbs go undercover to expose both the leak and the operations of a drug lord.

Like 2004's Collateral, Mann's picture owns the night and throws in some bursts of lightning and thunder as it submerges us into its world of shadowy figures, skillfully illuminated. Handheld cameras give you the feeling you're walking alongside the principals. Fast cars are there, but so are "go-fast" boats. So is a generous helping of sex, as Crockett hooks up with the smoking hot Cuban-Asian girlfriend of a drug-and-arms kingpin.

Most of the film is smugglers' chess as Crockett and Tubbs deal and counter-deal as dope runners in a tangled operation I won't try to describe. Mann's dialogue requires your undivided attention to understand what's going on, for his characters aren't written down for audience consumption. They talk like the dopers and cops they are, with nuance and understanding of things left unsaid which don't need repetition. Even with Crockett's sidebar romance, the film stays focused on the bust, not even allowing time for a title sequence at the beginning. That may be Miami Vice's only real flaw -- it's a little too procedural, too dark, too gritty.

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