Enough of Miami, just cut to the vice

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Enough of Miami, just cut to the vice


Sex, drugs, fast boats, fast cars, fast talkers and gunfights, gunfights, gunfights. That’s “Miami Vice.” And the new film, with Jamie Foxx and a mulleted Colin Farrell standing in for Philip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson, is nothing but a high-budget, widescreen feature-length episode.
Until this week, I had never seen a single episode of “Miami Vice.” So in the interest of preparing myself to write this review I downloaded a couple (legally, using iTunes): “The Golden Triangle” parts one and two. This is the kind of show, I realized, that you watch with a grilled cheese sandwich and a beer at 1 a.m. when there’s nothing else on. And the TV show left me with only two questions about the new movie: How can a film remake so perfectly recapture that feeling? and, Where the heck is Edward James Olmos?
The answer to the first question is: a creative combination of deliberately sloppy cinematography, retro costuming and devotion to the source material. Having the original producer Michael Mann in the director’s chair didn’t hurt either. But the answer to the second question remains unknown. The new “Battlestar Galactica” has shown that the stonefaced Latino lawman is as bad as he’s ever been, and Barry Shabaka Henley makes an uninspiring (and unrealistically obese) replacement as Castillo.
There isn’t much of a plot here, but what did you expect? After two agents go down in an ambush, detectives Sonny Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Foxx) go undercover as drug traffickers at the request of the FBI, looking to locate a leak from Washington to a crime syndicate run by Jesus Montoya, moving massive amounts of drugs into the United States via Miami. On the way, Sonny falls for Montoya’s femme fatale right-hand woman (Gong Li), and cracks begin to form inside the syndicate itself.
But all this doesn’t really matter, since the film resolves itself like any “Miami Vice” episode ― with a huge, extended gunfight between good guys and bad guys.
This really is a reincarnation of the original, with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings. The film’s look is a strange mix of James Bond and Cops, with quiet moments shot from helicopters, far above the Florida Strait, and action sequences rendered in shaky, “reality TV” hand-held. It’s a surprisingly successful approach that gives the film a startling suspensefulness that, perhaps, the script doesn’t deserve.
The feature format allows for the romance between Sonny and Li, who retreat together to Havana, to make a few good scenes, some almost even touching. But overall it’s grimacingly reminiscent of Anakin and Padme in “Star Wars” ― two angst-ridden creatures scowling through a sex marathon they both know can’t last. Foxx is forgettable as Tubbs, rounding out the bad casting.
Among the bad guys, the nameless Aryan Brotherhood characters are by far the most menacing ― far more so than the bourgeois drug runners.
This isn’t a great action film. It’s not even really a good action film. It’s just a really long episode of Miami Vice, with some interesting cinematography, pretty ocean shots and lots and lots of bullets.

by Ben Applegate
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