Strange Vices

First of all, I apologize for my late reviews. There’s no excuse for being a month late on my quasi-review of Pirates.

I’m a huge fan of Michael Mann. One of my top five fave directors, Mann has influenced me early on as a budding filmmaker. My first “full-length” film eXit was pretty much a blatant rip-off of Mann-ish techniques: dimly-lit urban scenarios, key light coming from the amber glow of street lamps, seedy characters of the night. I’ve come to the realization that Michael Mann’s hit TV classic Miami Vice was a true inspiration growing up. Not just because it was aesthetically pleasing (and now, painfully dated) but because Mann knows how to infuse substance with style. Heat opened a few months before I started thinking of going to film school. I think that explains why I went straight to making eXit because I remembered how I adore Michael Mann.

Now with Miami Vice the movie version of the hit TV show, Michael Mann plays it super safe. It’s a gorgeous movie, and it’s uber-cool, no doubt about it. But there’s nothing new on top of the material. This is just another cop movie and the cool factor fizzles when you realize it.

It would be near impossible to not compare it to the TV show. If it’s going to be Miami Vice and if you’re going to call it Miami Vice, then the structure can’t only be the one aspect that survives in the reincarnation. Charisma and chemistry should have made it to the film version too.

The TV show pushed boundaries, not only with style but it broke new ground in editing, directing, design, music and staging. The TV show is notorious for making violence on TV into an art form and quite possibly paved the way for numerous headaches for the FCC. Without Miami Vice, there wouldn’t be CSI, 24, Homicide, or the Law & Order series.

That’s what I don’t get. Mann says it’s nothing like the TV show. Well, sure, not stylistically but structurally it is essentially a remake of the episode “Smuggler’s Blues” from Season 1, and a little of “Calderone’s Return.” Plus Mann uses songs more than he does a score which is just like the TV show.

Considering the route Mann has taken in his reinvention, are we to expect to know the new Crockett and Tubbs? You watch Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx mutter their way through the words and you wonder who the hell are these two guys and what keeps them from wanting to do this sort of thing? Is Mann expecting us to simply accept Baby Crockett and Tubbs 2.0 because we kinda remember those candy-colored, sleeve rolling, original suavecitos from the TV show? This is a movie. Give us something to latch on to with these guys. It doesn’t have to be what’s from the show. Give us some kind of characterization. Something.

I don’t care about Crockett and Tubbs in the movie. They’re just cops doing their ‘thang. There’s no reason behind any actions. There’s no witty repartee between the two. We’re reduced to quick assurances of trust (“I will never doubt you”) between the two men. They have no chemistry between each other and their women (Gong Li as a drug lord’s accountant, Naomie Harris as Trudy, who is now linked with Foxx’s Tubbs, yawn, and Elizabeth Rodriguez as Gina). Crockett and Tubbs’ relationships with them are the most uninteresting thing about the movie and that’s too bad because the women are far more interesting characters. There are lines that just drop like dead weight (Crockett to Tubbs: “Like what Trudy would say, I ain’t playin.’”) To make matters worse, Crockett and Tubbs lack the charisma and energy of their TV counterparts.

How can Crockett and Tubbs be this boring when they should be far more fascinating creatures? Bringing us interesting, layered creatures of the night is what Michael Mann is good at. In the TV show, it only took 15 minutes to bring to light what Crockett and Tubbs were all about. One was a failed husband and a veteran with a shady past, the other a tormented New York City cop who can’t shake off the death of his cop brother. At 146 minutes, Mann couldn’t spare us an update on who the hell these guys are?

I’ll say it and damned if I do to say it. Mann should have gone back to the TV show. There. I said it.

Not the neon lights, or the bright Versace suits and the Ferrari Testarossas. Heck we can even do without the theme song (but an update on it would have been fascinating knowing that Mann’s got quite a musical ear.) We tend to forget that the TV show did have substance. (It did last for half a decade). It’s too bad that we only remember it for its style thanks to cheesy mag covers with an all too giddy Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas chumming it up behind neon spray-painted palm trees. Mann should have realized the strengths of the TV show and updated it for this film. Instead he gives us a visual treat no doubt, but nothing more; a technical achievement proving that Mann has the skills. But for an artist to go back to one of his masterpieces you’ve got to at least allude to it in more ways than one.

Perhaps style eclipsing substance has always been Mann’s fatal flaw. I hate to say it about one of my favorite filmmakers, but it’s apparent here, and that sucks because the material is good. There’s so much that could have been done. Instead, ironically, it all feels a little too safe for me, at least for Michael Mann’s standards.

Mann’s way of bringing Miami Vice into the now doesn’t have any substance. Now, it’s all just style. Perhaps if Miami Vice were a TV show today, executive produced by Mann, it would look and feel like this.

It might work. TV is different than the movies.

RATING: C+

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