Let us all genuflect at the shrine of Michael Mann, who, even when making films that are not up to his usual high standards, can still produce work that is better than just about anyone in Hollywood. So if the new, hip-hop era Miami Vice isn't quite as satisfying as Heat, The Last of the Mohicans or Manhunter, it's still a highly satisfying piece of stylish pop entertainment.
There's no doubt that Mann's decision to contemporize the original "Vice" and put it in a post-9/11 context was the right thing to do. But he has also smartly retained the template that seemed to drive every episode of the 1984-1989 TV series. In both cases, this means that Miami undercover officers "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are pitted against some evil South American drug dealers, while at the same time Crockett invariably falls for a femme fatale who will Do Him No Good. (This time out, it's Gong Li, playing a woman who runs the business end of a Colombian narcotraficante's illicit empire.)
So in 2006, the gussied-up, and sometimes overcomplicated, plot begins with a federal drug sting that goes awry. When Our Heroes realize this has meant the suicide of an informant and friend, they volunteer to go undercover as drug dealers to try to track down the bad guys who are smuggling tons of controlled substances into South Florida. This eventually leads them to José Yero (John Ortiz), nightclub owner and overall slimeball, and Mr. Big himself, Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar), who lives in splendor in a mansion surrounded by waterfalls in the Brazilian jungle.
Miami Vice is filled with lots of cool high-tech equipment (planes, computers, fast boats, phones, you name it), plenty of scenes featuring the stars looking broodingly intense, several exciting set-pieces (but none nearly as good as the downtown L.A. shootout in Heat), and gobs of moody photography to go along with its electronica and techno score. In short, it sometimes plays like a parody of a Michael Mann film. Without, however, the TV show's emphasis on fashion. (Our heroes look good, but not that good.)
Still, the movie is entertaining, has a coolness quotient that is off the charts, and features one extra little treat-a sequence towards the end with a punchy, testosterone-filled speech (delivered by a female cop, no less) that will be the "Make my day" of 2006. What more could anyone ask for?
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