The sun has been beating down relentlessly, turning our brains to mid-summer mush. In theory, it's the ideal time for Miami Vice, a film adaptation of the popular 1980s television show that reveled in bikinis, sunshine, bad-boy cops, colorful drug lords, speedboats and an entertainingly cheesy pastel-and-neon style. If only this dour, two-hour-plus film had half the zip of the TV show, and ... may lightning strike me now ... a pair of lead actors with as much spring in their steps as the perennially sockless Don Johnson.
Instead, director Michael Mann ... who birthed Miami Vice two decades ago, and now returns to shepherd his prime-time baby to the unfettered big screen ... delivers a remarkably dull film: It's an action movie without much action, an overly serious trudge through a rote undercover-cop adventure, with a plot that manages to feel simultaneously complicated and nonexistent.
The story is familiar: Two Miami cops ... Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) ... go undercover as drug traffickers. About 12 hours into their ruse, they're confabbing with the Mister Big of Colombia (Luis Tosar) and his Chinese/Cuban accountant/proxy/paramour, Isabella (Gong Li) ... and finessing zillion-dollar multinational narcotics deals. (Immediate acceptance into the underworld is surely guaranteed by Crockett's '70s-porn-star moustache.)
Vice is a film without suspense, and it never feels edgy despite its earnest attempts at grit. Shot in high-definition video, much of it is grainy and murky, and frequently the actors seem undermiked. The budget on this film was sky-high, so presumably these effects are intentional, but they're irritating enough to distract.
It's OK to be dark and moody in these times, but give us some meaning: We get no backstory, no character development, and barely any interaction between the two leads. (Partners who hate each other could have been a decent subplot.) The best Mann can drum up for intrigue is Crockett's affair with Isabella ... a pair of two-timers in love ... or are they? It hardly matters, because you'll guess the outcome immediately (unless this is your very first movie), and their interactions are plagued with mind-numbingly stupid dialogue.
We globe-hop a bit south of the border, but ironically the one place we never get a sense of is Miami. The TV show made that city seem electric ... with crime and corruption sure, but also with a lively multiculti population of hustlers, clubbers and old-school Florida iconoclasts. The show was bathed in color and light, and even as it was a nickel gimmick, it still conveyed the tension between South Florida's visible charms and the muck that lay beneath. In Mann's newest version, it's all dark and gloom in a faceless town. But for a few shots of go-fast boats edging Miami's skyline, this Vice could be going down anywhere.
For a popcorn actioner set in the drug trade, we don't even get much in the way of mitigating explosions or gunplay. The film culminates in a gun battle that has a certain postmodern artiness, but you can't really tell who's who or what's happening. (Hint: The ones who live are cops.) For cheap versimilitude throughout, a lot of inscrutable acronyms and cop-talk are barked out: "the Feeb," "op sec," "my ADO in DC," "it'll be AWACS, ICE, DEA." I was like, "WTF, can I buy a vowel?"
In most of their films, Farrell and Foxx are bright spots, energetic actors with a decent crackle of charisma; each has been the best thing going in prior terrible films. But here, both stars are flat, hampered by cheesy dialogue, dark sunglasses and a by-the-book drama that gives them little to do. When in doubt, they simply look mean and bored.
Then there's poor Gong Li, China's premier actress and arthouse darling, forced to couple with a sweaty Farrell on the floor of an SUV. That is, when she's not intoning dragon-lady financial pronouncements or fortune-cookie philosophy ("Time is luck"). She's the modern-gal trifecta: exotically foreign, easy to bed and super-smart.
I suppose Mann deserves credit for not falling into the trap of slavishly recreating the TV series, but this Vice feels like all color and life was beat out of it. Even as double-agent cops at the top of their game, Crockett and Tubbs don't seem like they're having much fun or brokering any satisfaction. And guess what ... neither are we.