You won't see the famous pastel suits. You won't hear Jan Hammer's famous theme song. But as Miami Vice opens on the big screen, 22 years after its successful television run, you will get the unmistakably intense vibe that characterized the show. And you'll also see Colin Farrell wearing one of the most alarming movie mustaches since Will Ferrell played anchorman Ron Burgundy.

Farrell takes over for Don Johnson, playing the role of undercover cop Sonny Crockett, who works with his partner Ricardo Tubbs to "cut into" a South American drug-smuggling operation. Together, Crockett and Tubbs—played by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx—risk their lives to discover how some white supremacists blew the cover on a crucial FBI operation. But as they venture deeper and deeper into a jungle of evil, posing as professional smugglers, they run the risk of losing their moral compasses along the way.

Their journey will take them far beyond the problem of the Aryans. After a tense meeting with a nervous drug dealer named Jose Yero (John Ortiz), they're taken all the way to an encounter with the cartel's Colombian prince of darkness—Arcángel de Jesús Montoya (Spanish actor Luis Tosar). This is a truly frightening and powerful man, who can deliver a bone-chilling threat by saying, in smooth and silky tones, "I extend my best wishes to your families."

Jamie Foxx as Ricardo Tubbs and Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett

Jamie Foxx as Ricardo Tubbs and Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett

But Crockett and Tubbs don't have families. They can't afford it. They know that anything they do could ruin not only their own lives, but the lives of anyone connected with them. They can't even fall in love, or they risk exposing and spoiling a whole network of operatives.

So no wonder Tubbs looks worried when Crockett announces that he's in the mood for love. "There's undercover," Tubbs mutters urgently, "and then there's 'Which way is up?'"

It doesn't matter. Just when things seem to be running smoothly, Crockett suddenly waves goodbye to Tubbs and speeds off in a boat with a beautiful woman—a fiercely intelligent Chinese Cuban named Isabella, played by Gong Li. They're off to Havana for a steamy, reckless love affair. She's beautiful, no question there. And she's clearly smitten with him. But there's a problem. Isabella is Montoya's financial advisor.

Under such volatile circumstances, can any romance last? Playing with fire, Crockett tries to draw Isabella away from Montoya's clutches. Isabella, meanwhile, must decide whether to be loyal to her murderous master or to her own heart.

Crockett's newfound love isn't the only relationship putting the vice squad at risk. Tubbs is taking tumbles in the sheets with a foxy colleague named Trudy (Naomie Harris of 28 Days Later and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest). You'd think they would know better than to complicate their police work like this—and Tubbs is about to feel the hurt of taking such a gamble.

Sonny and Ricardo got the mojo going on

Sonny and Ricardo got the mojo going on

Moviegoers who watched Mann's Miami Vice television series may recognize this plot outline from the show. But this is not so much a remake as a complete reinvention. The 2006 Miami Vice doesn't stay in Miami for long—our heroes are quickly hurrying off to Paraguay and Haiti (played here by the Dominican Republic). Things get much darker and more violent than the television adventures ever did.

Oh sure, Crockett and Tubbs are still serious crime-fighters in serious suits. They still rush through a world of glamorous wickedness in high-speed cars, planes, and boats. Even the end credits song, Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," contributes to this blast from the past.

But where Don Johnson played Crockett as a high-spirited wisecracker, and Philip Michael Thomas played Tubbs as a sidekick too cool for stress, Farrell's Crockett and Foxx's Tubbs look like equal competitors in a sport of glaring and glowering.

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They have good reason to scowl. TV's vice squad operated in the stylish crime-fighting fantasyland that we see today in CSI: Miami. These movie heroes take us instead into frightfully believable crises. Mann's movies have always been charged with a sense of severity that stifles any hint of humor. Nobody here has time to joke around.

Pay attention—this movie moves. Mann doesn't even pause for opening credits. And nobody stops along the way to explain this web of double-crosses and intrigue. Cops and robbers alike throw around acronyms and crime-speak the way computer geeks use techno-jargon. After fifteen minutes, we're dizzy with information. But even if the dialogue is at times unintelligible, these well-dressed fellows are so focused, so good at what they do, we'll follow them almost anywhere.

Ricardo and Sonny, lookin' like they got some vices

Ricardo and Sonny, lookin' like they got some vices

As always, Mann gets engaging performances from his actors. Farrell convinces us that Crockett's mind is as swift and sure as his shooting. His laser-beam intensity is arresting. As Tubbs, Foxx conveys cold-as-steel determination on the job and surprising tenderness in love scenes with Harris. Ortiz and Tosar make Freyo and Montoya into crafty, fearsome villains, and there is strong supporting work from Munich's Ciaran Hinds and Collateral's Barry Shabaka Henley as stressed-out lawmen.

And yet, it's Gong Li who steals the movie. Having delivered unforgettable performances in Zhang Yimou's Farewell My Concubine and To Live, she's proven herself as a formidable actress. Here, she allows us to catch glimpses of vulnerability, self-doubt, and fear through the slight cracks in Isabella's sophisticated mask. Mann might have cast a younger actress, a bigger box office draw, but he was smart to choose Gong, who is masterfully subtle and provocative at 40.

Unfortunately, the screenplay barely scratches these characters' sweaty surfaces. It's disappointing that Crockett and Tubbs spend most of the film apart. The movie seems much more interested in Crockett's erotic endeavors than it does in the dynamics of his professional partnership. The vice squad's story about trust and teamwork becomes secondary to the flashier story of a man and a woman who confuse lust, loneliness, and longing with love.

Viewers, be warned that the film is rightly R-rated. Hasty sexual affairs, dangerous drugs, bloody violence, and one mojito after another—it's full of reckless indulgence. Is Mann condoning these behaviors? Or are they portrayed as messy realities with serious consequences?

Like the television series, Miami Vice focuses far too much on the officers' sex lives, and not enough on real relationship. And yet, to some extent, this makes sense. These are not religious or deeply principled people when it comes to love. In such demanding, dangerous work, fleeting affairs are all they know and all that they think they can afford. They're lost, troubled, needy, and desperately lonely. It is easy to understand why they would stumble into such risky rendezvous and to feel some sympathy as they reach for less-than-ideal comfort.

It wouldn't be 'Miami Vice' without fast cars

It wouldn't be 'Miami Vice' without fast cars

Fortunately for audiences, the drugs are never glamorized. They hardly come into it at all. And the violence—it's not celebrated either. It's ugly, bloody, and chaotic, a harsh reality devastating to both sides of the conflict.

No director today beats Michael Mann at portraying the menace of criminal minds and the pressure good crime-fighters must endure to stop the bad guys. In Manhunter, an FBI officer teetered on the brink of insanity as he hunted a serial killer. In The Last of the Mohicans, a desperate man fought to keep his love alive in a war zone. In The Insider, Mann's masterpiece, a whistleblower risked the security of himself and his family in order to tell the truth about corporate evil. And in Collateral, a cab driver's conscience was tested by a heartless assassin.

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But the film that most resembles Miami Vice is 1995's Heat, in which Al Pacino's workaholic cop committed himself to catch a career criminal, played by Robert DeNiro. As the cop did what it took to bring down a king of thieves, he learned that luxuries like love, parenthood, and family life are almost incompatible with the pressure of such intense heroism. It's a dirty, lonely job—but somebody's got to do it.

Miami Vice explores the same quandary. But the non-stop action doesn't just complicate the officers' relationships—it prevents us from connecting strongly with them. Like the TV show, the big-screen Miami Vice will be remembered more for its style than for any meaningful storytelling. Dion Beebe's digital cameras give unique textures to dark streets and capture spectacular colors and cloudscapes. Still, the filmmakers' extraordinary talents end up offering a picture of moral confusion, as these almost-superhuman cops waver between acts of admirable courage and misguided carnal indulgence.

We're left wrestling with the question that runs like a dangerous river through Apocalypse Now: How far into the darkness can a righteous man go before he makes too many compromises and loses his way?

Talk About It

  Discussion starters
  1. Clearly, the vice cops have to lie and deceive in order to achieve their objective. But isn't lying a sin? When is it ethical for a person to deceive another person
  2. What do you admire about the vice officers? What don't you admire about them
  3. Do you think that Crockett and Isabella are really in love? How would you describe their relationship? If they were able to break free from the dangers, do you think their relationship would last
  4. What about Tubbs and Trudy? Is there anything admirable about their relationship
  5. Did any character show any spiritual or religious convictions? How might faith change the way they work
  6. What do you think Crockett has learned by the end of the film? Anything?


The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Miami Vice earns its R-rating with graphic, bloody violence; scenes of a sexual nature that include fleeting glimpses of nudity; and profanity.


What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 08/03/06

In Terrence Malick's The New World, Colin Farrell played a brave, burdened man who infiltrated a dangerous foreign culture, and fell in love with someone on the other side of the cultural divide. His feelings for her complicated his responsibilities, causing his heart to be caught in a tug-of-war when the British went to war with the Native Americans.

Now, in Michael Mann's Miami Vice, Farrell plays the same kind of character: brave, burdened, and loyal to his superiors as he infiltrates an international drug operation and falls for the girlfriend of the malevolent kingpin. Will he do his job and bring down the drug lord? Or will he abandon his duties and run away with the woman of his dreams?

Wait a minute … this is Miami Vice? Wasn't that television series about the partnership of undercover cops Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs? Isn't it supposed to feature fast cars, fast boats, and fast airplanes?

Well, yes, and Mann has brought back the speed, intensity, and action of the original. But this is not so much a remake as a complete reinvention. The 2006 Miami Vice doesn't stay in Miami for long—our heroes are quickly hurrying off to Paraguay and Haiti, where things get much darker and more violent than the television adventures ever did.

Oh sure, Crockett and Tubbs are still serious crime-fighters in serious suits. They still talk their way into a world of glamorous wickedness. Even the end credits song, a cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," contributes to this blast from the past. But where Don Johnson played Crockett as a high-spirited wisecracker, and Philip Michael Thomas played Tubbs as a sidekick too cool for stress, Farrell's Crockett and Jamie Foxx's Tubbs look like equal competitors in a sport of glaring and glowering.

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The resulting film glamorizes law-enforcement officers who have very little discipline when it comes to their personal lives and relationships. It celebrates indulgent sexual affairs even as it concludes that such appealing adventures are costly. It's an exciting motion picture, stylishly captured in the groundbreaking digitial cinematography of Dion Beebe, but it's also profoundly confused.

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "Mann's stated intent of showing 'the first postmillennial examination of what globalized crime looks and feels like' is well and good, and perhaps undercover agents do sometimes blur the lines, but the film still feels like an empty exercise. … [The] humorless script is dull, while the plot beyond the general story arc is annoyingly dense, and at 133 minutes exceedingly long."

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says, "[T]his is definitely a darker, seedier, nastier version of the iconic show that once made pink shirts and pink flamingos all the rage. Even if these serious content concerns weren't enough to dissuade old TV fans from engaging (and they certainly are), the movie's straight-faced grimness probably would get the job done anyway. The subtly campy spirit of the original is simply nowhere to be found."

Stephen McGarvey (Crosswalk) says the movie is "too relentlessly dark, and almost completely boiler plate. Considering that Mann has given us unique police/crime movies like Heat with its clever 'cat and mouse' mind games between cops and robbers, or Collateral with its unusually terrifying premise, Miami Vice is pretty disappointing. There isn't anything there that fans of cop movies haven't seen a hundred times before. And there won't be much to which fans of the original will relate."

Though usually mad about Mann, mainstream critics are offering mixed reviews for his latest.

from Film Forum, 08/10/06

Brett McCracken (Relevant) writes, "It shows the alluring parts of sin and darkness (like many, many films easily do), but also the two-facedness of it. Crime might pay, but not forever and not enough to recoup your soul. … At the end of the day, some dirty deeds have to be done to keep the even dirtier deeds from occurring—this seems to be the framework of [director Michael] Mann's moral world. But even this 'lesser of two evils' worldview is not perfect, for there are consequences for every vice one engages in, even if the vice is collateral in the quest for some greater virtue."

Miami Vice
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
 
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Mpaa Rating
R (for strong violence, language, and some sexual content)
Directed By
Michael Mann
Run Time
2 hours 12 minutes
Cast
Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li
Theatre Release
July 28, 2006 by Universal Pictures
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