Miami Vice (15)

ANDREW CLARKE The television show made Miami look sexy and attractive – here it is shown as the grim, bleak underside of American society.

ANDREW CLARKE

This is a very stylish-looking movie, but, sadly, this is virtually the only positive thing that can be said about it. The title alone should be of some concern to the producers because this is so unlike the 1980s TV series that it could be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act.

All of this should come as some surprise to regular filmgoers because director Michael Mann not only worked on the original television series, but he is usually such a stylishly perceptive film-maker that he will always turn out something thought-provoking.

He created such well-made and dissimilar movies as Heat with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the tobacco industry whistleblower movie The Inside Man with Russell Crowe, and Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis.

However, his impeccable track record comes undone here with this confusing and overly-complex tale of undercover operations in the Miami drugs network.

The main problem with the film is that it is difficult to understand what is going on. The dialogue is little more than primeval grunts and snatched sentences half-buried in the sound mix which leaves us, the audience, trying figure out what on earth is going on.

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At the deathly quiet press show critics were turning to one another and whispering: "Did you catch what he said?" How a full auditorium packed with chattering teens and crackling crisp packets will fare is anyone's guess.

What is immediately apparent is that the DayGlo, feelgood nature of the TV series is conspicuous by its absence - replaced with a dark, gritty look that suggests that this is really something else.

The two leads may be called Crockett and Tubbs but really the story and the characters come from an entirely different world.

The film has a sombre edge that the TV series never had. The television show made Miami look sexy and attractive - here it is shown as the grim, bleak underside of American society.

There are virtually no scenes shot in daylight, so there is a gloom which infuses the whole film and gradually with the indistinct dialogue alienates its audience.

It doesn't help that at the start of the film we are plonked down in the middle of the story and from that point on we are racing to catch up with what is happening on screen.

The basic premise is that a three-way, undercover operation by the FBI, CIA and US Customs into a worldwide drugs syndicate is compromised by a leak. Local FBI boss Ciaran Hinds reluctantly recruits the help of Miami police in the shape of Crockett (Farrell) and Tubbs (Foxx) to go undercover and seek out its source.

Along the way Tubbs' girlfriend Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris) is kidnapped and Crockett falls for the drug baron's right-hand women (Gong Li). That is essentially the story.

It is giving nothing away to say that the film becomes so embroiled in the ins and outs of the story that by the time the final credits roll the need to find the identity of the mole has been totally forgotten. It is not good storytelling.

The other huge problem the film has is that the two leading characters - the two who supposedly make this a Miami Vice movie - bear absolutely no relation to the lovable rogues in the TV series. Don Johnson's Sonny Crockett was a wisecracking charmer, whereas Colin Farrell's big-screen equivalent is a truculent, brooding tough guy who doesn't crack a smile once. Sadly, Jamie Foxx's Ricardo Tubbs is reduced to being little better than a supporting player in his own film.

Both parts are sketched very thinly and this makes it very hard for the audience to identify with either one of them - which when added to the fact that the plot and mumbled dialogue has already left the audience confused means that very few people will have the will to see this through to its bitter conclusion.

Of the other characters only Gong Li's drugs baroness character has any real role to play. There are two female cops who, for the most part, seem to hang around in seedy nightclubs watching Crockett and Tubbs wander around looking mean and moody.

Chinese star Gong Li, in her second English language film, frankly acts everyone else off the screen. At least she manages to conjure up a duality to her role which makes her part seem interesting - even though her motivation is not fully explored.

To give Michael Mann his due the film does have a superficially good looking quality. The photography is terrific and the stunt-filled action sequences are well constructed. But there is little suspense and by the time they explode into life in the third act most of the audience is past caring.

It's difficult to see who this film is aimed at. It's certainly not at youngsters who won't remember the original series - not is it aimed at those who do.

It could be, with some prudent re-editing, a good workman-like thriller, but it is simply misleading to call it Miami Vice. A huge, confusing disappointment.

 

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