You can learn a lot about Michael Mann
's updated Miami Vice by listening to Glenn Frey. It's true. Many questions surrounding this remake are answered using the lyrics to Frey's prophetic "Smuggler’s Blues," a song made famous by the seminal 1980s buddy-cop drama that sold sex and sidearms on South Beach.
For instance, why would Mann – a respected filmmaker riding a decade-long creative hot streak – blow the dust off a hopelessly dated property he last executive-produced almost 20 years ago? As Frey sings, "It's the lure of easy money. It's got a very strong appeal." And why would a studio support Mann's impulsive let's-get-the-band-back-together decision after projects from Bewitched to The Dukes of Hazzard demonstrate that audiences don't care to relive the past? Frey confesses, "It's a losing proposition. But one you can't refuse." Article continues below
In its prime, the television-sized Vice influenced the fashion industry, peddled synthesizer-laden soundtracks, and made Don Johnson a household name. This realistically superficial recycling, however, will cure insomnia, set the advancement of digital cinematography back a few years, and unsuccessfully argue in favor of the mullet as an acceptable coif style.
The story lost me almost immediately, but looked cool doing it. Undercover detectives James "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell
) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx
) are deep into one case when a former informant contacts them claiming that a deal he was working went bad. To clean up the mess, Crockett and Tubbs must infiltrate a sprawling drug cartel lorded over by menacing Jose Yero (John Ortiz
, mimicking Al Pacino
's Tony Montana character) and sultry Isabella (Gong Li
, her broken English disrupting half of her lines).
Vice marks a return for Mann in multiple ways. He's back on the beach with Crockett and Tubbs, characters he last manipulated in 1989. More importantly, it's the director's first mature cops-and-robbers thriller since 1995's Heat, a modern classic which also presented an in-depth analysis of individuals operating on opposite sides of the law. Part of Heat's allure, though, was the intimate knowledge we collected about Pacino's bulldog detective and Robert De Niro
's elusive thief. Watching the former sacrifice his marriage and family life for the sake of the job added juicy drama to his otherwise routine investigation.
Vice lacks that human touch, those insights into the men away from their beats. Mann ladles on ample attitude, while his chiseled leading men provide plenty of posturing. Mannequin Vice might have made for a better title. Foxx and Farrell buy into the shout-and-scowl method, with an emphasis on the latter. But the script neglects to fill in details about Sonny and Ricardo beyond quick peeks into their active bedrooms. It's a fault built into the premise. These men exist deep undercover, so the lives they lead are smokescreens – which makes it difficult to care whether they continue to blow smoke or not.
As a whole, the stiff and procedural Vice moves too slowly to hold our interests. It's a thinking-man's summer picture, code for "no action, plenty of conversation." Normally that's fine, but Mann pens lines that would have been too cheesy even for the '80s program. Crockett repeatedly claims, "No one has ever treaded where we are now." We just don't believe him. One villain barks, "He wants to promise them silver, but pay them in lead!" James Bond's foes made more effective threats.
Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe continues to experiment with digital technology at Mann's request. It works when the action shifts to the open seas, but his night shoots produce muddy visuals that – while realistic – are ugly and drab. I guess when compared to the original Vice's pastel color scheme, it's an improvement.
Frey once again gets the last words. I'm paraphrasing a few of his somber lyrics so that they properly sum up how I felt leaving my screening. I'm sorry it went down like this, and the audience had to lose. It's the nature of this business. It's the critic's blues.