Dir: Michael Mann. US. 2006.132mins.
Forget "MTV cops" in pastel suits. Michael Mann's bigscreen version of TV landmark Miami Viceturns the stylish (in its day) mid-1980s series into a darkly intensecontemporary crime drama with a vivid digital video look and broodingperformances from stars Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. Mann'sdaring approach results in a film that's always intriguing but ultimately toomoody and distant for its own artistic and, probably, commercial good.While critics and older upscale cinemagoers may respond favourably, mainstreamaudiences expecting more in the way of effects-heavy action and beachsidesexiness could be very hard to attract.
Universal launches the filmthis weekend (July 28) in North America, against mostly comedy competition.Familiarity with the series (now available on DVD, of course) and the presenceof Oscar-winner Foxx should produce a decent opening. But matching the eventual$101m domestic gross of Mann's 2004 HD thriller Collateral (which had Foxx and Tom Cruise starring) will be achallenge.
In international markets,the film will get a publicity boost from its premiere at next week's Locarno International Film Festival. And distributor UIPmay find that mainstream audiences outside the US are more open to Mann'schallenging style. Irishman Farrell (who proved his international appeal withAlexander) will certainly help in Europe and Chinese co-star Gong Li will be aboon in Asian territories.
The 1984-89 TV series -created by Anthony Yerkovich but executive producedby Mann - introduced vice squad cops 'Sonny' Crockett (played in the series byDon Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas on the small screen). Italso started some dodgy fashion trends and a vogue for rock music soundtracks.
In his movie script, Mannsends Crockett (Farrell) and Tubbs (Foxx) undercover to penetrate the new millennium'sglobalised drug trafficking business. Trying to naila Miami white supremacist gang for the murder of an informant's family, thecops become drug smugglers for Haiti-based plutocrat Montoya (Spanishwriter-actor Luis Tosar) and his Chinese-Cubanmoney-woman Isabella (Gong).
The script keeps backgroundand exposition to a minimum (and doesn't offer a hint of humour), revealing little about its characters and forcing theaudience to do some work to follow the unfolding of the cops' undercover plan. Earlyon, the approach is similarly spare in other departments, with low-levellighting, hand-held cinematography, and only occasional dabs of music.
As they did on Collateral, Mann and director ofphotography Dion Beebe use high definition videocameras to create some arresting images, though in this case the images are ofa whole range of locations and conditions rather than just neon-lit citystreets. The use of HD also adds documentary-style immediacy to scenes ofCrockett and Tubbs plying their dangerous trade.
The narrative and visualstyles work best when the film is operating as an ampedup police procedural. They work less well when the story turns its attention tothe conflict between the cops' personal lives and their jobs. When Crockettfalls for Isabella, the affair is played out in pared-down dialogue and visualflourishes that are too self-conscious to be really effective.
Mann makes a few concessionsto mainstream expectations, opening the action with a nightclub scene anddropping in a few flashy cars and muscular speedboats. But he mostly avoids theMiami cliches and the film's action scenes go more for gritty realism thanexplosive effects. Even the sex that's allowed in the big screen version (andby an R rating in the US) is relatively restrained, coming across more elegantthan raunchy.
The film might have beenmore engaging had Mann made full use of his cast (as he did in his 1995 crimeclassic Heat). Though Farrell gets afew stretches in which to show his stuff, Foxx has only a couple of chances tobe anything other than a grim-faced operative. Gong is alluring as the mysteriousIsabella, but after making her American debut in last year's Memoirs Of A Geishashe still has some work to do before she can claim to be a truly internationalstar.
Pieter Jan Brugge