The world, according to Miami Vice, is a vicious place, where telling the good guys from the bad is difficult, sometimes impossible. I confess to never having seen a single episode of the TV series upon which the current movie is based, but I'm guessing it was a mite less harsh, a hair less confusing. The executive producer of that series, Michael Mann, is the writer and director here. But, except for some obligatory South Beach and skyline shots, you'd hardly know you were in glamorous Miami Beach. Mann gives the film a gritty, dark look and feel; the characters and the action fit right in.
As the two leads, detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx glower and mutter, sometimes so that we can't understand them. Likewise, the plot line often sinks into incomprehensibility, the action moving forward by elliptical leaps, rather than smooth progression. In the early going, Mann dumps us into the life of Crockett and Tubbs as if this were a sequel"”or an episode in a series"”and we already knew who these people and their friends and colleagues are. This has a peculiarly unsettling effect, since Act I is supposed to establish and clarify, not mystify.
Things get only marginally more lucid, paradoxically, when the two men go undercover. They pose as transporters of large loads of drugs, getting inside a Columbian ring which works out of Haiti. (There's plenty of tourist footage here, both seamy and gorgeous.) Once inside, Crockett scores all but instantly with the organization's CFO, played by Gong Li. (There's plenty of sexual content, too, as Tubbs has a girlfriend who also favors co-ed showering.) Crockett convinces the expert businesswoman, literally overnight"”think Commander Bond!"”to take him on as a partner, guaranteeing the safety of the shipments of drugs and who knows what else.
Luckily, Crockett and Tubbs know all there is to know about running and loading a freighter, piloting a private jet, and manipulating the hi-tech surveillance stuff that turns up in every scene. In their world, privacy is a distant memory: everyone knows what everyone else is up to"”except for the double crosses, lies, and switches which also dot the action. A further layer of confusion comes with some business involving the FBI and a white supremacist group.
The violence of their world is sporadic, but when it breaks out, it explodes. This is not a film for the faint of heart, especially at the climactic shootout, which looks and sounds more like a war movie than a cop flick. The movie richly deserves the "R"ť rating for violence and language.
Miami Vice is all about atmosphere and attitude, rather than plot or character. It goes for the viscera, rather than the intelligence, all the high-tech gloss notwithstanding. If you like movies long on style and short on substance, this will be your cup of chai; if not, not.