A Feature Film That Doesn't Relive Its 1980s TV Roots
Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell and Gong Li star in Miami Vice (2006), a pulpy, operatic, visually stylish crime drama written and directed by Michael Mann (Collateral, Heat, Manhunter). The film is brooding and deliberately paced with sporadic sequences of action and violence that are well-integrated into the story. Plot and character development are of only secondary concern in the movie; its primary means of evoking audience response is through sequences of images and sounds.
The film is loosely based on the television series of the same name, in which Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas starred as Miami police detectives. The show originally ran from 1984 to 1989, becoming a significant part of the era's pop culture. But when Mann made the big screen version of Miami Vice, he opted not to take a fond look back. Instead, he cast new actors in the lead roles and updated the setting and sensibility to 2006, displeasing many fans of the TV series because the film feels so different.
The movie begins with a high-energy sequence that does not advance the narrative, but introduces characters and sets tone. Several members of the Miami-Dade Police Department, including detectives Sonny Crockett (Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Foxx), are conducting a routine operation involving prostitution at a glitzy South Beach nightclub. But in the middle of the operation, Crockett and Tubbs abruptly abandon it to work on something more urgent: an F.B.I. drug deal going bad.
Soon Crockett and Tubbs go undercover and infiltrate a drug ring, and the rest of the film chronicles what happens as they travel to exotic places and have unusual experiences. Sometimes they speed around in snazzy planes and boats as they go to Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and Barranquilla (Colombia). They're always in danger of having their cover blown, but Crockett lets his success at deceiving ruthless criminals go to his head and takes a huge unnecessary risk.
Crockett goes on a side trip to Havana to drink mojitos with a beautiful money launderer (Gong Li), and this is the beginning of forbidden love. But eventually everything gets resolved in a massive shoot-out back in South Florida.
Two DVD Editions Containing Different Versions of the Film
There are two DVD editions of Miami Vice containing slightly different versions of the feature film. One is the Theatrical Edition, where the movie is the R-rated version that was shown on the big screen. The other is the Unrated Director's Edition, which is what I am writing about here. In his commentary, Michael Mann says the latter should really be called "the director's revision a month and a half or two months after he released the picture." A little footage has been added, but a few shots have also been deleted.
Director's Audio Commentary
Michael Mann gives an excellent feature-length audio commentary that answered all the questions I had about Miami Vice. He has some interesting remarks about how international drug trafficking works and how law enforcement has responded. He claims that informants are often compensated on a percentage basis, and there are cases where one of them has been paid well over a million dollars. He mentions that the unusual-looking plane that Crockett and Tubbs use for their first drug run is the Adam A500, a brand new aircraft designed by Burt Rutan. Mann also says that Montevideo (Uruguay) stands in for Havana and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) was used for Port-au-Prince. But Ciudad del Este played itself, and the streets there really are littered with Styrofoam.
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