'Vice' isn't nice
'Miami Vice' loses all of TV version's hip banter, charm
The cigarette boats still slice through the aqua waves of Biscayne Bay, the neon-lit, Art Deco nightclubs still pulse with sexuality and danger, and the insouciant vice cops Crockett and Tubbs still prowl the tropical Miami nights in a sleek Ferrari on the trail of devious dope smugglers and other underworld sharks.
But in making the leap from TV to the big screen, "Miami Vice" casts off much of the stylish bravado and pastel campiness of the mid-1980s television series for a more grisly, deadly and butched-up seriousness.
In fact, so solemn and straight-faced is this violent expansion of the old show, under the precise, glossy and macho directing hand of the series' creator Michael Mann, that it skirts awfully close at times to unintentional self-parody.
Not the kind of high-handed mockery that marked such other recent TV-to-movie leaps as "Starsky & Hutch," "Charlie's Angels" and "The Dukes of Hazzard," but the kind of self-serious, deadpan parody that delivers lines like this without a wink: "The odds catch up. Probability is like gravity. You do not negotiate with gravity."
Gravity seems to define much of Mann's work since the breezy disco days of "Miami Vice" on the tube, and in the ensuing years he's perfected a kind of bleak, breakneck style of muscular crime drama that's resulted in such things as "Manhunter," "Heat" and "Collateral."
In the new "Miami Vice," the pink T-shirts and rumpled Armani linen suits of Don Johnson's Sonny Crockett are replaced by Colin Farrell's sullen grays and a rough mullet-and-mustachioed look. And Philip Michael Thomas' suave, dewy-eyed charm is nowhere to be found in Jamie Foxx's goateed Ricardo Tubbs, a cool sidekick in shades who is all business.
Gone are the witty give-and-take and casual camaraderie of the old Crockett and Tubbs, who in this incarnation are flinty men of action whose partnership is fused in blood and professionalism, not bonhomie and buddyhood.
Unfolding in a dark, moody, rock 'n' roll netherworld of sex, drugs, guns and swift death, the film's overly complicated plot spans from Miami to Paraguay to Havana and trots out a baroque parade of bloody-eyed Colombian drug thugs, hillbilly methamphetamine makers, sleazy snitches, by-the-book bureaucratic boors and, of course, sultry-slinky dames.
Undercover cops Crockett and Tubbs are assigned to infiltrate the drug-smuggling network of a merciless cartel and try to get to Mr. Big, the murderous Montoya (Luis Tosar), through his ranting middle-man Jose Yero (a wildly overripe John Ortiz) and his ravishing Chinese-Cuban money laundress Isabella (Chinese film diva Gong Li of "Farewell My Concubine" and "Memoirs of a Geisha").
Naturally, the roguish Crockett looks into Isabella's mournful, liquid eyes and immediately falls into a passionate affair with her -- a sexy, soft-focus interlude that takes them on a heated, all-night drinking and dancing romp in Havana and leaves Crockett brooding over his inevitable betrayal of this beautiful moll.
Tubbs, too, has his romantic travails as he carries on with opinionated police intelligence analyst Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris, the voodoo seer of "Pirates of the Caribbean 2"), who ultimately falls into the clutches of some white- supremacist meth dealers, setting up a high fire-power rescue effort.
Fire power is the overpowering aesthetic of Mann's movie, in which relationships are the least compelling and believable aspect of the enterprise. Story and character are merely mules through which he transports viewers from one giant, hyper-violent gun battle to the next. Those battles are each composed and choreographed to the nth degree -- ferocious and balletic, bloody and horrifying and very, very cool.
On a human level though, there was far more attitude, texture and sheer fun in the old TV cops -- Johnson with his boho houseboat lifestyle and pet alligator, Elvis, and Thomas with his male-model prettiness and smooth Afro-Latino vibe.
Farrell's Sonny Crockett is one glum fellow with a shaky Southern accent that seems to originate from somewhere south of Dublin and an emotional range that indicates only two things on his mind -- sex and violence.
Oscar winner Foxx occupies the shotgun seat in this wild ride and as hard as he tries to invest Rico Tubbs with some moral dimension and emotional substance he's hamstrung by an all-style script that gives him minimal screen time and few opportunities to display his cop's humanity.
As for chemistry, Farrell and Foxx can generate very little between them as their performances pale behind the waves of motion, color, sensation and violence that Mann orchestrates from the director's chair like a mad maestro.
His "Miami Vice" only truly comes to life when guns are blazing. But it might have benefited from a little retro-attitude, even as it seems far too busy to pause for sun-and-fun as it throws blood-drenched, new-millennium attitude and stylish nihilism onto the screen.
Dennis King 581-8479
Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx and Gong Li
Southroads 20, Tulsa, Starworld 20, Owasso, Sapulpa 8, Claremore 8, Riverwalk 8 and Cinema 8 (Broken Arrow, Sand Springs)
R (strong violence, language, some sexual content)
* * 1/2
(on a scale of zero to 4 stars)