Miami Vice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 August, 2006, 12:00am

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li, Naomie Harris

Director: Michael Mann

Category: IIB

After a summer of disappointing, unimaginative remakes, Miami Vice starts off looking like more of the same. As the music pumps, James 'Sonny' Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx), sporting T-shirts under their designer jackets, wade through a sea of sweaty bodies in a dark disco. Crockett flirts with a barmaid, then it's on to spring a prostitution sting on two small-time drug dealers.

But this is a Michael Mann film - and as it quickly develops into a full-blown adventure in the messy, claustrophobic underworld of modern-day Miami, it's clear that Mann never envisaged Miami Vice as being a re-run of the pastel-coloured television series he produced back in the 1980s.

The song that comes with the final credits sums up the difference: Phil Collins' ghostly In the Air Tonight, which was the soundtrack for the TV series' pilot episode in 1984, is performed by Nonpoint as an all-out nu-metal bash.

Mann's speciality is crime thrillers revolving around hard-bitten, alienated men in gritty, unsympathetic urban landscapes, exemplified by the Los Angeles-based Heat and Collateral. Miami Vice, too, is a visually ravishing vehicle that brings out the angst and danger lurking in what is now a world of globalised crime. The use of Thompson Viper cameras and harsh lighting heighten the tension.

As it turns out, the opening has little to do with the main story: Crockett and Tubbs go undercover to track down a mole in the FBI who is selling information to a drug gang with terrorist connections. This brings them into contact with soft-spoken criminal mastermind Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar) and his girlfriend, the icy Cuban-Chinese Isabella (Gong Li).

Miami Vice has attracted plenty of publicity as a result of the reported off-screen relations between Farrell and Gong - and yet their on-screen antics are distracting and unconvincing. Romance has never been Mann's strongest suit, and Miami Vice suffers from his ill-advised decision to make it a pivot for some of the action.

And Mann's adherence to genre formulas - the heroes' showdown with the bad guys is fuelled by threats to their loved ones - makes for a disappointing anti-climax.

None of which is helped by an undercooked plot and a lightweight effort to examine Crockett's conflict about his dual identity. Tubbs' advice - 'There's undercover ... and there's which way is up' - applies equally to the film. After a blistering beginning, the buttered side seems to have landed face down.

Miami Vice opens today