One of the damnedest movies I’ve seen this summer, Miami Vice is successful only part of the time and confounding all the way through. Since his days as a guiding light on the trendsetting TV series from the 1980s, Michael Mann has established himself as an accomplished moviemaker with such hits as The Last of the Mohicans, Heat and The Insider. So his decision to bring Miami Vice to the big screen wasn’t the act of a desperate has-been eager to recapture some of his former glory. Mann has instead elected to turn his Vice into something altogether leaner and meaner -- if not necessarily tighter. The movie runs approximately 2-1/4 hours, and audiences expecting a zippy action flick will find this bo-o-o-ring indeed. Yet those who can tune into its wavelength will frequently find themselves fascinated by its beautifully composed shots, its startling bursts of violence and its baffling narrative segues. The film centers on Miami cops Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs (Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in the roles once upon a time played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) as they travel through the Americas from Miami on down to take care of some particularly nasty drug kingpins. Along the way, Crockett falls for one of the drug outfit’s power players (the great Gong Li, here struggling with the English language and often losing), Tubbs racks up some quality time with a fellow enforcer (Naomie Harris), a snitch leaks compromising info to the villains, and, in one spectacularly staged scene, a group of trailer-park skinheads get theirs in a bloody fashion. Given the expectations of not only fans of the TV series but also summer movie audiences in general, it would have been so easy for Mann to cash in quick by making a trashy spectacle like Bad Boys II or Con Air. Instead, he tries to add import to his movie by stripping down his characters until all that’s left are archetypes upon which we can hoist all manner of expectations. He views Crockett and Tubbs as nihilistic warriors so embedded in their careers that they only need their weapons, their clipped cop-cliche-lingo and each other to survive. There’s no back story to any of this: What we see is what we get. Unfortunately, such iconic images are only as good as the movie stars propping them up, and while Foxx and Farrell can glower with the best of them, neither of them possess the weight of personality or aura of invincibility that, say, Clint Eastwood or John Wayne could summon without breaking stride.
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