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Miami Vice ***

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Farrell broods his way through Mann's
alternate take on Miami Vice.

(Courtesy of SFStation.com) 

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Li Gong, Naomie Harris, Justin Theroux, Luis Tosar. Rated R.

Michael Mann has long maintained that any big-screen adaptation of Miami Vice would have to be “done right” - in other words, without the stylish pastels, the creamy silk blazers and pink t-shirts, and the lounge-lizard sensibilities that made officers Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs seem, at times, more like caricatures than cops. Under Mann's watchful eye, the series became a cultural phenomenon, but it was rooted firmly in the culture of the '80s. To translate his vision into the present day, Mann needed a darker, grittier sensibility, the kind that would be better suited to HBO than prime-time network television.

In that sense, the re-imagined Miami Vice is a real achievement - the southern Florida coast has never looked so drab. Shot with digital cameras and engulfed in murky shadows, the movie is a stark departure from the NBC original. Gone is the TV show's cool-guy humor, ably provided by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. These days, the vice beat is ultra-serious business, and it' has taken a toll on the latter-day Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). Crockett, in particular, seems the worse for wear. As Farrell plays him, he is brooding and distracted, presumably haunted by the grueling nature of his work. He lacks Johnson's breezy charm, but then, that's the point.

Miami Vice isn't just a movie about two street-tough cops who go undercover to infiltrate a Colombian drug network; it's about the effects such work has on the soul, a study of men who sacrifice their identities to defend their ideals. Sometimes, the line becomes blurry. Crockett is briefly tempted by the intoxicating pleasures of life as a drug pusher - the easy money, the beautiful women. Tubbs isn't buying into it, though. He never loses sight of the job at hand, and he's as solemn and single-minded as the movie. Foxx delivers an assured performance, but there's little joy in the role. The director simply doesn't permit it.

Mann, whose best films (Heat, Manhunter) approach crime with a minimum of dramatic contrivance, knows this material well, and the action here is briskly paced and visually striking. It is graphic in a way his TV show never could be, and the film presents the Miami underworld as a grim realm rife with betrayal. It's easy to get sucked in, but the ride isn't much fun. Even when Crockett falls into bed with Isabella (Gong Li), the kingpin's trusted associate, the difference between the two Vices couldn't be more obvious.

Back in the day, Crockett was a ladies man who approached his job and the nightlife with equal exuberance. But Farrell's character is dour and intense, and even a tryst doesn't lighten his mood. The affair seems somehow incongruous with the rest of the movie, as if Mann decided to throw fans of the TV show a bone. The rest of the time, he seems intent on distancing himself from his past, or just rewriting it entirely. The result is uncompromising and powerfully bleak.

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