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Edgy 'Miami Vice' makeover nothing like its TV namesake

By Mark Moorehead

July 29, 2006

Gone are the leisure suits, white shoes, hip talk and sanitized shootouts between the bad guys and two cop buddies. Add the city of Miami itself to the list of discarded trademarks from the original television show.

Miami Vice the movie is fresh and surprisingly original in its presentation. Visually, this powerful film blows you away with its edgy, inventive camera work and close up shots, mined with realistic sound effects that pull you in so tight  the tension is almost tangible.

Director Michael Mann succeeds in making you think you just dodged a bullet and what you’re seeing is real -- he knows his craft.

Dion Beebe, director of photography, deserves an Academy Award for his brilliant work in Miami Vice. He threw away the cookbook for filming action sequences and instead approached each scene with the reverence of an artist determined to move the viewer emotionally, and it works. Beebe intertwines dark, grainy scenes that evoke the sensation of impending danger, reminiscent of the film Traffic with scenes of crisp, bright, exotic landscapes and sweeping skies that provide a welcome respite from the seamy side of busting drug traffickers.

Some of the shots are so breathtaking they make you feel like you’re on a National Geographic  field trip or an Arizona Highways photo tour until some guy gets shot through the chest with a slug the size of a golf ball.

The violence is a reminder of what the film is really about. Opening with a drug bust gone bad due to a “leak” within the organization, Miami undercover police detectives Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) volunteer to go even deeper undercover in order to locate the origin of that leak.

Their new identities send them to South America, where roles are reversed. They’re the outsiders, the suspects in a world of mutual distrust and murderous drug traffickers. In short, it’s a familiar plot.

Isabella (Gong Li) plays the Chinese-Cuban wife of a drug smuggler and Crockett’s love interest. She plays her role smartly as a veteran underworld criminal, both cunning and risk taking. When Crockett first meets Isabella he’s smitten and begins a forbidden relationship with her that places them both in danger. Intimate scenes that follow are so hot members of the rating board had to be squirming in their seats.

What transports Miami Vice from coach to first class in the police-drama genre is the solid acting on the part of Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx and the supporting cast.

Farrell avoids the pitfalls of portraying Crockett as cocky and overly polished, as was his predecessor. Instead, he’s more like a real cop. He’s a team player. He doesn’t scream at his superiors or try to be a one-man army.

Likewise, Foxx pulls his weight without appearing to upstage his partner. Yet, both characters are too good to be true. James Bond would be jealous of their vast skills that include the ability to pilot virtually any form of transportation and evade detection by well-informed drug lords. Their nemesis in the film says it best: “These guys are too perfect”.

Miami Vice is the kind of film for which big movie houses were designed. It’s a sensory experience that requires a large screen and a dark room. Don’t wait to see it on DVD. If you do, you’ll miss out on much of what this film has to offer.

General Audiences: B

Remake of the original Miami Vice television version about two undercover detectives. Drug-busting theme delivered with cinematic sophistication that sets a new standard for this genre. Lots of action, beautiful scenery and some nudity. A guy movie.

Family Audiences: Not appropriate. Antithesis of family film fare. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content.

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