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July 28, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | July 28, 2006 |

Michael Mann really needs a new shtick. His more appealing films tend to be those where he gets out of his crime-thriller mold and tries something else, like The Jericho Mile, Last of the Mohicans, and The Insider, yet his heart clearly lies with personality-heavy cop-vs.-criminal action films like Thief and Heat. This isn’t always a bad thing, mind you — Mann is fairly talented at making subtly artistic action fare that turns out better than average. Still, to remake his own iconic ’80s cop show on the heels of Collateral seems too much of a creative copout.

As a remake, Miami Vice’s only relationship with the television vehicle is a similar setting, situation, and the skin tones of its main protagonists. James “Sonny” Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are still undercover detectives rooting out drug lords and riding fast boats, but this Miami Vice is soundly updated to a stylish modern setting, laced with Audioslave singles and shot in Mann’s preferred high-def digital video. On the other hand, I’ve no clue why Farrell is coifed like a dairy trucker.

The plot is wholly concerned with an FBI bust gone awry, wherein Crockett & Tubbs (sounds like a Cajun banjo duo) are brought in to root out the culprits and bust a global drug ring. The two pose as drug traffickers making a bid for an especially large shipment, and a rather natural imbroglio of cat and mouse ensues as they wrangle with the drug lords for advantages and try to lure them out.

Mann’s chief character conflict time and time again is the dichotomy between personal and professional when your chosen vocation involves shooting people. Typically his protagonists are so fanatic in their devotion to their jobs that they’re unable to disassociate life and work or work and love. Mann plays this card again with Crockett and Tubbs by having them find dangerous liaisons — Tubbs is involved with fellow cop Trudy (Naomie Harris) while Crocket begins to woo the mistress (Li Gong) of an international drug lord. Both relationships provoke predictable complications.

Miami Vice is at its best when it lets itself unspool in quick action vignettes, such as at the beginning and end of the film, but it hits an expositional sag in between when Mann opts to explore the aforementioned relationships in the hope that it will strengthen interest in the characters. Usually this is Mann’s strength, such as in Heat, when close involvement made the story particularly operatic but, this card having been played one too many times, the motions feel much more fleeting and are handled by less talented actors — so in all likelihood it will leave viewers pretty disinterested.

I’ve always appreciated Michael Mann for trying to inject some artistry and seriousness into a genre that has gotten schmaltzy and pedestrian after so much Bruckheimer/Bay flotsam, and to that extent Miami Vice still holds an advantage over the competition. The digital cinematography offers a grainy, visceral feel and still manages to bring out colors beautifully. Still, with machinations so worn and familiar, his criminal operas are becoming more ordinary, and it’s only a matter of time before Mann’s work begins to sink further into mediocrity. Like his previous effort, Miami Vice offers little other than cursory coolness. Rest assured, however — there is no Don Johnson cameo.

Philip Stephens is a film critic for Pajiba.

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