If the Miami Vice TV series was a pastel suit (sleeves rolled up, no socks), this retooling is a black SWAT team balaclava pulled tight over the head: dark, clammy and with no room to breathe. Like its undercover cops with dummied up back-stories, it’s a film without a past, the Miami Vice identity just a front. It owes the original series nothing except the title, plotting from an episode (“Smuggler’s Blues”) and the salt’n’pepper buddy-up of Crockett (Colin Farrell, sweaty) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx, suave). No wonder audiences didn’t know what to make of it.
It’s only through a second viewing that its credentials can be confirmed. Not since The Way Of The Gun has a crime thriller known its world – and what it wants to say about it – quite this well. The opening club scene throws us in deep; no clues, nothing but the thud, thud, thud of a dance track as some unspecified deal goes down. Mann’s not interested in spoon-feeding. It’s keep up or drop out. Silences hang heavy, punctuated only by Farrell’s frowns or conversations marinated in jargon. HD visuals are crisply oblique, romances are deliberately stillborn (Farrell and Gong Li’s tussle an unnecessary diversion); only your partner’s got your back.
Mann’s always been a macho moviemaker in thrall to the DEA agents and weapons specialists on his payroll (check out the third act trailer-trash bash). Colin Farrell agrees. “He’s, ‘Why fake it when you can do it for real?’” says the star in Miami And Beyond: Shooting On Location. In Ciudad del Este, a tri-border crossing where life and Rolexes are cheap, we see Mann shooting on the streets, heavily-armed cops playing bodyguard. It’s as hairy as a wildebeest’s nuts (disappointingly, though, there’s no mention of the Dominican Republic shooting that sent Foxx scurrying back Stateside).
In Miami Vice Undercover, the second and final documentary on this lightweight disc, Farrell’s roped in to a real drug deal by his DEA handlers. It’s all part of Mann’s Method, letting the people who live the life show you how to recreate it. Two seconds in, the deal goes bad, Farrell cacking his Calvins as he’s accused of being an undercover cop by menacing coke dealers. It’s a set-up (Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d) but for a moment, the star’s gagging on the dry taste of fear. It all feeds into the role.
Bold and blokey, Miami Vice shows the shadows that creep under the Miami sun. In the extras, DEA undercover operatives (steeped in shadow to protect their identity – and because it looks good) talk about getting off on such adrenaline rushes, a buzz the film strives for. Hit and miss it may be (action: hit; dialogue: miss; guns: hit; lovey-dovey: oh, you get it), but for adult blockbuster entertainment, with a cheeky nod to ‘80s nostalgia (stick on the credits to hear Phil Collins, remixed), Miami Vice is well worth the price.