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Cinema

Miami Heat.

As an atmospheric and consistently engaging police procedural that’s well above the mean of this year’s tepid summer crop, Miami Vice — which I caught several days ago and haven’t had the time to write anything about — is definitely worth a look-see. The plot is wafer-thin — two tough cops go undercover with an impressive arsenal of sleek, speedy vehicles at their disposal — and at times well past implausible, but, much like the first half of Collateral, Michael Mann mostly makes up for it by layering on the captivating high-def ambience thick. If you’re a fan of Mann’s film work — Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans, The Insider, Heat, Ali, Collateral — and don’t go in expecting anything like his ’80s TV show (which I saw exactly never — when it started, I was living overseas, and I was probably too young for it anyway — in any case, this movie feels more like Mann’s short-lived Robbery Homicide Division), I think you’ll definitely find it rewarding. (Indeed, some Manniacs are raving about the film.)

The film begins without credits and in media res, with vice detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell, rocking a grotesquely bad ‘do) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) in da club, dressed to the nines, and apparently looking to break up a prostitution ring. As the scene progresses, we intuit that Messrs. Crockett & Tubbs are the no-nonsense heads of a crack Miami police unit made up of Naomie Harris (of 28 Days Later and POTC 2) and the HBO All-Stars: The Wire‘s Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi), Brenda’s boyfriend Joe on Six Feet Under (Justin Theroux), and — indirectly — Deadwood‘s Sol (John Hawkes) and Blazanov (Pasha Lynchnikoff) and Rome‘s Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds). But before this hardy team of television thespians can capture their quarry, a frantic call from one of Crockett & Tubbs’ regular CIs (Hawkes) eventually sets the squad on a new target: Latin American drug lord Jose Yero (John Ortiz), who appears to be using nasty Aryan Brotherhood types as muscle. Soon, Miami’s dynamic duo find themselves deep undercover without a net in Yero’s organization, only to discover that he may only be a stalking horse for even Bigger Bad Arcangel de Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar), and his beautiful majordomo Isabella (Gong Li), whom Crockett has his eye on…

That’s the setup, but as I said, it’s basically all just an excuse for Farrell and Foxx to wear nice duds, get behind the wheels of some really fancy people-movers, and seethe, flex, canoodle, and ruminate like the typical bevy of manly Mann men. To be honest, I’m more fascinated by gritty, street-level Wire-like depictions of the drug trade than I am this sort of fast-cars-and-million-dollar-tech type stuff. But for the most part, all this ends up being more entertaining than it sounds on paper, drenched as it is in a moody atmosphere of perpetual dusk and lightning flashes on the horizon (and, as in Heat Mann can do quality shootouts like no other.) Only when Farrell and Li lose their heads and fall head over heels in love does the film really slip off the rails — Basically the movie stops cold a few times so Sonny and Isabella, the latter acting particularly out of character, can get mojitos in Havana or go salsa dancing in South Beach. (Foxx’s relationship with Naomie Harris is equally formulaic, but less time is spent on it, until a third-act rescue which feels more than a bit like well-made television.) In sum, Miami Vice isn’t the type of movie that’ll knock your socks off, but it is consistently diverting throughout. And, as a worthwhile reimagining of the TV show, it earns its place among the very few recent television-to-movie remakes worth checking out.

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