Attitude is nothing without conviction. Michael Mann's 'Miami Vice' oozes with the first but forgets the second. It is a film that pursues its technically polished look with more zest than it approaches the lives of its two main leads – the hotshot undercover detectives Crockett (Collin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). Mann has always had the ability to juggle the aesthetics of good filmmaking with good storytelling, but here he trades the latter for the former.
The director's fascination for the lives of criminals is not new. In 'Collateral', the main character was a hired hitman played with animalistic instinct by Tom Cruise. Mann's 'Heat' remains the most balanced portrait of the dichotomy that exists between a cop and a robber, in their hunter/predator roles. In 'Miami Vice' he takes the concept of 'good cop, bad cop' and offers it to us as 'bad cop, bad cop'. The two detectives play thug like Miami policemen who willingly go undercover when one of their own is killed in a violent showdown with the drug underworld of the city. Their assignment takes them to dangerously edgy locales in South America and into the heart of the cartel they wish to bust. Here Crockett forms a carnal fascination for the wife of the mod boss, Isabella (played in stilted fashion by the visibly uncomfortable Chinese actress Li Gong). From this stems an unnecessary subplot that the movie jumps into at the most inopportune moments, while in this lethal pursuit Crockett & Tubbs not only risk their own lives, but also of the people around them.
In its reliance on high definition digital camera work, 'Vice' has a lifeless, detached quality that never looks as pleasant as traditional film. With each consequent work, Mann has thrown away his ambient moody milieu and strong, clear visuals in favour of his affinity for technology. Digital film works fine during daylight but is too obtrusive for night time shots. In 'Collateral', the manic, kinetic pacing and clever banter never allowed us time to ponder on these visuals for too long; not so in 'Vice'. The picture manages to partially redeem itself and provide faint amusement in the process, on the basis of some jarring gun fights sequences, perfectly relaying the carnage and brutality of a heavy artillery showdown.
Nearly all recent television to movie adaptations have been misfires because of their creator's dependence on nostalgia to create interest. 'Miami Vice' was conceived differently, riding high amidst a wave of hype surrounding Mann's involvement, given how successful he was in steering the show to success in the mid 80's. His familiarity with the original show however does little to help when the leads are unable to generate any real spark together. Both Farrell and Foxx are fine in their respective tough guy roles, but they radiate immense cheerlessness because these characters work best as loners, not as a duo. Even though the film builds a lot of intrigue through confusion, it finally adds up to precious little in the face of a scattershot plotline and a disillusioned director. - Faizan Rashid