Colin Farrell as Det. James ‘Sonny’ Crockett
Jamie Foxx as Det. Ricardo Tubbs
Li Gong as Isabella
Luis Tosar as Arcangel de Jesus Montoya
Naomie Harris as Trudy Joplin
John Ortiz as Jose Yero
Based on the hit 1980’s television show, “Miami Vice” follows the exploits of vice squad detectives Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) in the seedy underworld of Miami and beyond as they get dragged into a complex undercover operation to bring down a drug kingpin (Luis Tosar) and his criminal empire.
While the “Miami Vice” show was known for its stylishness–often above and beyond its characters and stories–“Miami Vice,” though still very stylish, is every ounce a Michael Mann crime film, with as strong an emphasis on character and performance as on visual style. The story itself isn’t particularly original; Crockett and Tubbs deal with the problems of going deep undercover, particularly Crockett as he finds himself falling for the kingpin’s aide-de-camp (Li Gong), and as their personal lives keep getting more and more tied up with their professional responsibilities. It’s old hat, but Mann does it very well.
It does result in a bit of an imbalance to the film – Crockett and Isabella get quite a bit more screen time than anyone else including leading man Foxx who, despite being in most of the scenes of the movie, is not as dramatically involved in the goings on throughout the long middle section while Crockett and Isabella jet off to Cuba to begin their romance. There seems to be an interesting story between Tubbs and his fellow undercover officer Trudy (Naomie Harris), particularly as a counterpoint to the other romance of the film, but most of it seems to have been left on the cutting room floor to make room for Crockett and Isabella and what there is of it is pretty perfunctory. She exists mainly to get kidnapped by the Aryan Brotherhood early in the third act so that Tubbs can rescue her and exact revenge. But we never really get to know her or Tubbs that well, so it’s hard to care.
The problem with Trudy is representative of the rest of the cops that follow Crockett and Tubbs around on their adventures – they’re there because it’s just not believable that these two guys can do it all themselves (it’s not the ’80’s anymore after all), but they have maybe ten lines of dialogue between them through the films 135 min. running time. They’re props, not characters, and despite the realism they bring to the plot, don’t really serve any purpose.
A lot of this is due to the strange pacing of the film. It begins quite well with a drug deal gone bad and Crockett and Tubbs’ initial moves to worm their way inside Montoya’s operation, but the farther it goes along the slower and slower it gets, particularly as it begins to focus on Crockett and Isabella. It’s a trade off that might be worth it if the Crockett/Isabella story weren’t one that has been done many times before. But it has. The final confrontation itself is also anti-climactic and not at all up to the standards of Mann’s other cinematic gun battles, and does nothing but add to the film’s general feeling of slowness.
It’s also interesting to note that despite being called “Miami Vice” most of the film does not take place in Miami, nor does it have anything to do with the vice squad or with vice in general (except in some vague, thematic way). If it weren’t based off an old television show, the title wouldn’t make any sense at all.
“Miami Vice” isn’t a particularly accurate translation of the show – and depending on your point of view that could be good or bad – but it is a stylish, if uninspired, crime thriller.