Michael Mann's Miami Vice reviewed.

Reviews of the latest films.
July 27 2006 5:48 PM

Mojito Coast

Surrendering to the charms of Miami Vice.

Listen to Dana Stevens' Spoiler Special about  Miami Vice by clicking the arrow on the player below:

Miami Vice. Click image to expand.
Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell in Miami Vice

It's a measure of Michael Mann's unique gift as a filmmaker that he manages to make stuff you'd never want to do in real life—like grinding against Colin Farrell in a sweaty nightclub, or exchanging gunfire with Nazi supremacists in a trailer park—seem strangely seductive and appealing. The world according to Mann is loud, dangerous, morally ambiguous, and more than a little greasy, but during the hours you spend there, there's nowhere you'd rather be.

This is true even in films like Collateral (2004), in which Mann's storytelling disintegrates into a whirl of stylized set pieces. Collateral's last 20 or so minutes are downright ludicrous, but the impression you take away from it is still of a place—in Collateral's case, Los Angeles—that's serious, sophisticated, and somehow fully adult. In Miami Vice (Universal), the nightscapes of L.A. are replaced by a transnational Mann-land: Whether you're in Miami, Havana, or a lawless frontier city straddling the borders of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil, there's no shortage of stark-white apartments with spectacular ocean views, where gorgeous biracial women take long hot showers as R&B throbs in the background.

Advertisement

Lest this all start to sound campy, let's be clear: In returning to his own Miami Vice series for source material, Mann isn't mining the vein of '70s and '80s TV nostalgia that brought us movie versions of Starsky and Hutch, Charlie's Angels, and The Brady Bunch. If anything, it's the TV show, with its garish costumes and winking dialogue, that feels like a sendup, while the far grittier and darker film functions as the real thing. Mann treats the bygone series not as a brand but as a myth. He uses our background knowledge of it as shorthand, the better to hurl us in medias res.

Where we're hurled turns out to be a pretty murky place indeed. After the identity of an informant (John Hawkes) is leaked and his family brutally killed, detectives Sonny Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) go deep undercover to sniff out the rat. This leads them in two directions at once: on the trail of a Cuban drug lord named Arcángel Jésus de Montoya (Luis Tosar) and into the dank, depressing world of an American white-supremacist group that, for reasons Mann never quite makes clear, have seen fit to kidnap Tubbs' girlfriend Trudy (Naomie Harris), an ass-kicking intel analyst. Meanwhile, Crockett is falling hard for Montoya's woman, a poker-faced Chinese-Cuban beauty named Isabella (Gong Li). In the movie's most exhilarating scene, she invites Crockett to take her out for a mojito—to Havana. As they skim across the Florida straits in what's referred to, with good reason, as a "go-fast boat," the viewer is drawn in by one of the oldest and most compelling reasons there is to go the movies: We'd like to be doing that, too—zipping off to Cuba for a no-strings night of passion with the likes of Gong Li—and this is as close as we're ever gonna get.

Verbally, Gong Li's performance is something of a disaster. She pronounces her English dialogue phonetically, with a singsong intonation unrelated to its content. But Li's face communicates affect with the economy of a silent-film actress. Sonny and Isabella's romance, as scripted, is a pretty thin affair, but somehow by the movie's end I believed in their grand passion for each other. Colin Farrell, who was laughably insubstantial as Alexander the Great in Oliver Stone's Alexander, brings a deep, if inscrutable, back story to his portrayal of Sonny Crockett, a man willing to suspend the law in order to enforce it. Jamie Foxx, wearing an oddly pubic tuft of chin hair, seems uncharacteristically restrained as the more by-the-book Tubbs. He does get one down-and-dirty love scene with the missus, but I would have liked to see him take off on a go-fast adventure of his own.

The movie's languid, world-weary mood is punctuated rhythmically by earsplitting bursts of gory violence—it's as if Sam Peckinpah had retired to Margaritaville. And while my viewing companion and I occasionally snickered at the existential bravado of the dialogue ("It is eleven forty-seven o'clock, and this is the hand we have been dealt"), we sobered up quick when the guts started to hit the fan. But for all its abundant gunplay, Miami Vice is not without its moral center. "There's undercover," Tubbs warns his partner as Crockett begins to fall under Isabella's spell, "and then there's, which way is up?" In Mann-land, these distinctions—between right and wrong, cop and criminal, the world and the netherworld—matter, big-time. At the risk of getting all existential myself, they're all we've got to separate us from savagery.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:04 PM Pogo Returns With Another Utterly Catchy Disney Remix
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 2:39 PM Here's How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.