If there’s one thing we all can agree on, it’s that the last thing that we need for a little while is another remake of a 70s or 80s TV show. It doesn’t surprise me to see all of the remakes considering the fact that creativity — true creativity — is becoming more and more scarce. I don’t need to run down all of the remakes of TV shows into full length movies, but suffice to say that it’s been about 95% bad — and maybe I’m being a bit charitable there.
That said, I kinda groaned when I realized that I went through my Netflix queue so quickly that Miami Vice somehow snuck to the top and had “Shipping Today” next to it’s title. Ugh. I just wasn’t in the mood to watch another remake. Somehow I found myself with some free time and the red envelope was staring at me. So I popped it in. And somewhere in between then and now, a funny thing happened — I was entertained. The movie is by no means perfect. But it definitely exceeded my expectations.
Michael Mann appropriately directs Vice — he served as Executive Producer for the original 80s drama. I’m a fan of some of his other films (particularly Thief, Heat and The Insider.) I should definitely interject here that I’m not a hardcore fan of the original TV show. I had a stint where as a kid I watched maybe twenty episodes, but even then I could see the formulaic approach as the show gained more and more success. But I think I’ve seen enough to be able to draw comparisons between this movie and the TV show.
The plot isn’t deep — but then again, neither was the TV show. You have two partners who’d just about die for each other. As a black and Caucasian vice detective team, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs get to drive cool cars and have romantic encounters with hot women as they chase down foreigners who run drugs. That’s basically it. Both the TV show and the movie. In the movie’s defense, if this was going to be an effort that embodied the spirit of the original, it should follow the format of the show. It also borrows a lot of the cheesiness of the original, but it does so in a very enjoyable way.
Jamie Foxx (Rico) and Colin Farrell (Crockett) both have their own take on the characters they are portraying. Neither tries to imitate Don Johnson or Philip Michael Thomas, but their performances are pretty commendable. They play the characters seriously — no tongue-in-cheek shots at the original movie. They share very few on screen moments where they let the viewer see the bond between them, but Foxx and Farrell seem to convey the bond without words as they are always backing each other up. They even managed to put Detective Trudy in the show (originally played by Olivia Brown). In the movie, she’s played by Naomie Harris (who I thought was incredible in 28 Days Later.) The rest of the cast are your token bad guys — you know, the Columbian drug guy, the mysterious Asian lady, the Spanish guy who goes in between the real dealer and the runner, and countless other guys whose sole purpose is to go down when the bullets start flying.
Overall, the movie plays out like an extended version of the TV show. It’s centered around one big boss that Rico and Crockett are after (and get to use non-conventional means to take him down.) Somewhere along the way, love happens and Farrell gets into one of those “in too deep” situations. A lot of the movie is very predictable. But the execution is well done and by the time the credits roll, the feeling you’re left with is very satisfying.
Of particular note is the way that Mann features Miami as a backdrop in the movie. It’s beautifully shot and makes me wish I had waited for this one in high definition. Mann is known for his signature use of color to convey emotion and he doesn’t disappoint here. Lots of beautiful tones and night shots combine to create the signature mood of the TV show and of his other police-related work. The music is so-so. You could tell they were going after the feeling of the original show (which had some incredible music) but the songs just don’t cut it. There’s a key scene where a remake of Phil Collins In the Air Tonight is the backdrop. I really wish they just went with the original. The remake guts all of the emotion of the song we love.
There are some problems. The dialogue tends to be overly technical, as to connote a sense of authenticity. Foxx and Farrell spit out so much cop-jargon that I had to put the subtitles on — and even then I couldn’t completely follow what the plan for the bust was. Also, there are a few head-slapping moments where you have to wonder how dumb the drug kings could be. One in particular comes at the end of the film. I won’t spoil it, but it’s one of those signature scenes where the Joker leaves Batman before he gets to see him eaten by the crocodiles. But for all it’s faults, the bad stuff is forgivable.
Miami Vice is no marvel in modern filmmaking. It’s a remake of a police drama. But it does manage to capture the feeling of the original show, and that actually is a huge accomplishment considering the graveyard of films that couldn’t do what this film does. It’s enjoyable, and it’s stylish — it’s got all the coolness and cheesiness of an 80s crushed linen suit. One word of warning — the DVD I saw was an un-rated version of the film. The death scenes during the shootout are particularly visceral. As desensitized by TV-violence as I am now, there were at least three scenes where I found that even I was taken aback.
If you’re in the mood for some vice cops risking their lives to catch the head drug guy and look cool in the process, check this one out.